Port of Churchill

Port of Churchill
Churchill Seaport 1996-08-12.jpg
Aerial view of the port in 1996
LocationChurchill, Manitoba
Coordinates58°46′28″N 94°11′37″W / 58.7745°N 94.1935°W / 58.7745; -94.1935Coordinates: 58°46′28″N 94°11′37″W / 58.7745°N 94.1935°W / 58.7745; -94.1935
Owned byArctic Gateway Group LP
Available berths4[2]
Draft depth17.0 m.[2]

The Port of Churchill is a privately-owned port on Hudson Bay in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada. Routes from the port connect to the North Atlantic through the Hudson Strait. As of 2008, the port had four deep-sea berths capable of handling Panamax-size vessels for the loading and unloading of grain, bulk commodities, general cargo, and tanker vessels.[3][4] The port is connected to the Hudson Bay Railway, which shares the same parent company, and cargo connections are made with the Canadian National Railway system at HBR's southern terminus in The Pas. It is the only port of its size and scope in Canada that does not connect directly to the country's road system; all goods shipped overland to and from the port must travel by rail.

The port was built by the Government of Canada and remained under federal government ownership until its sale in 1997 to the American company OmniTRAX. In December 2015, OmniTRAX announced it was negotiating a sale of the port, and the associated Hudson Bay Railway, to a group of First Nations based in northern Manitoba.[5][6] With no sale finalized by July 2016, OmniTRAX shut down the port and major railroad freight operations along the HBR in August 2016.[6][7] The railway continued to carry cargo to supply the town of Churchill itself until the line was damaged by flooding on May 23, 2017. The Port and the Hudson Bay Railway were sold to Arctic Gateway Group — a consortium of First Nations, local governments, and corporate investors — in 2018.[8] On July 9, 2019, ships on missions to resupply arctic communities began stopping at the port for additional cargo,[9] and the port began shipping grain again on September 7, 2019.[10] The port and railway came under complete community and Indigenous ownership in 2021, after AGT Food and Ingredients and Fairfax Financial transferred their shares in Arctic Gateway to OneNorth – a consortium of community and Indigenous partners which owned the other fifty-percent of Arctic Gateway's shares.[11]


A political cartoon by Arch Dale depicting the Montreal Gazette and Ottawa Journal laughing at the idea of Chuchill becoming a grain port in 1926, and being stunned at the results in 1931.

The port was built in the late 1920s[citation needed] and began exporting grain shipments in 1931, following a six-year project to build the railway to connect Hudson Bay to other points in Canada for use in shipping.[7] The first ship to import cargo through the port was the British freighter Pennyworth in 1932.[12]

The port and all freight railway service to the port was shut down in August 2016 following the Government of Canada's ending of the Wheat Board monopoly, which subsequently allowed Canadian farmers to sell grain to all market participants, and shippers were free to ship via lower-cost non-Arctic ports and transport routes.[7]

After purchasing the port and related infrastructure in 2018, the Arctic Gateway Group repaired the rail line before winter set in, lowering the cost of goods in Churchill.[13]

On September 7, 2019, the Arctic Gateway Group announced that it had successfully completed the loading of its first grain ship since operations were ceased in 2016.[10]

Port operations

The port is iced in for much of the year and is accessible only between late July and early November.[3] For example, in 2010 the shipping season was July 28 to November 2.[14] Shallow waters also restrict its development as an ocean port. Despite these restrictions the port remains useful for shipping grain and other bulk cargos because shipping by rail costs several times as much, per ton, as shipping by sea.

The port is a compulsory pilotage area.[15] Pilotage is provided by the Great Lakes Pilotage Authority, a Crown corporation of the Government of Canada which includes responsibility for pilotage on the Hudson Bay coast of the provinces of Ontario and Manitoba.[16] Pilotage charges between July 20 and October 31 follow a published schedule; outside these dates charges are based on cost recovery.[17]

From 1931 to 2016, the port typically was used for outgoing shipments of grain, usually from the Canadian Wheat Board.[18]

Since 2007, port activity diversified somewhat and increased in line with growth in Arctic mining operations in Nunavut and an expansion in supply ship reloading.[19] In September 2007 the port handled its first domestic export trade, shipping 12,500 tonnes of wheat to Halifax aboard the Arctic supply ship Kathryn Spirit.[19] On October 18, 2007 the port received its first import trade in seven years and the first ever from Russia, a shipment of fertilizer purchased by Farmers of North America. The shipment is supposed to be the beginning of an Arctic Bridge that would link Churchill with the Russian port of Murmansk.[3]

View of the port's facilities and grain elevators from the east.

The port was almost entirely reliant on grain from the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) for its viability. Wheat accounted for 90 per cent of all traffic through the port. According to a November 6, 2008 press release, the CWB shipped 424,000 tons of western Canadian wheat through the port of Churchill during the 2008 shipping season. The first wheat left port on August 8, and the last of 15 freighters left on October 20.[20] Exporting prairie wheat through Churchill saves Canadian farmers money on transportation in terms of rail-freight costs and avoiding Saint Lawrence Seaway charges,[citation needed] but the operating profits to the private company operating the port were highly dependent on the monopoly rates and rules implemented by the CWB.[7] The CWB incentivized shipments via the port through the use of its Churchill Storage Program which paid farmers to retain grain on-farm for later movement through the port. Because the Churchill shipping season begins before the new wheat crop is harvested each summer, the Storage Program helped ensure adequate volumes of grain are available for export by bringing in grain saved from the year before.[citation needed]

The port of Churchill exported 710,000 tonnes (700,000 long tons; 780,000 short tons) of grain in 1977, 621,000 tonnes in 2007, and 529,000 tonnes in 2009.[21] Shipments continued to decline, falling to 432,434 tonnes (425,604 long tons; 476,677 short tons) in 2012 and plummeting to 186,000 tonnes (183,000 long tons; 205,000 short tons) in 2015.[22][23] Port operations ceased in August 2016.[6]

The rail station at the Port of Churchill

The CWB was sold off to Saudi Company, G3 Global Grain Group in 2015 and the Churchill Port suffered as grain shipments were slowly ceased.[24] Omnitrax then closed the rail-line and port, citing profitability of the operations. It then entered into initial talks to sell the port and rail-line to a local indigenous consortium of Manitoba First Nations, Missnippi Rail Consortium.[25]

Under the new ownership of the Arctic Gateway Group, the port completed the loading of its first grain ship on September 7, 2019. It was announced on September 16 that the port has begun loading a second ship.[26]

Alternatives to grain

The government of Manitoba proposed in 2010 that the Port of Churchill could serve as the North American terminus of an Arctic Bridge shipping service to Murmansk in Northern Russia. Containers from inland China and central Asia could potentially be transported to Murmansk by Russian railways, shipped to Churchill then transported south by rail to major destinations in North America, avoiding existing transport bottlenecks.[27]

In 2010, investments to upgrade the port to "facilitating export options and the flow of two-way trade with other Northern ports" were made,[28] as described in the Statement on Canada's Arctic Foreign Policy: Exercising : Sovereignty and Promoting Canada's Northern Strategy Abroad which is launched on August 20, 2010.[29]

Canada is the world's fourth-largest oil exporter, and the Port of Churchill has an oil-handling system. The port's owner has proposed a $2 million upgrade to this system, which would give additional competitive advantage to Canada's oil export industry.[30]

On July 9, 2019, the port began supplying cargo to ships on their way to resupply northern communities.

Marketing efforts

The Churchill Gateway Development Corporation was created in 2003 to market the port and diversify its traffic base.[31] The port's official web site www.PortOfChurchill.ca contains promotional information for visitors to the area.


  1. ^ "UNLOCODE (CA) - CANADA". www.unece.org. UNECE. Retrieved 9 September 2020.
  2. ^ a b "Port of Churchill, Canada". www.findaport.com. Shipping Guides Ltd. Retrieved 9 September 2020.
  3. ^ a b c Friesen, Joe (2007-10-18). "Russian ship crosses 'Arctic bridge' to Manitoba". The Globe and Mail. CTVglobemedia Publishing. Retrieved 2008-09-05.
  4. ^ "Churchill Port and Railway Owners Push to Ship Million Tonnes in 2008". Marketwire. Marketwire Inc. 2007-11-05. Retrieved 2008-09-05.
  5. ^ Macintosh, Cameron. "OmniTrax sells Port of Churchill, Hudson Bay rail line to First Nations group". CBC News. Retrieved 2016-10-06.
  6. ^ a b c Lambert, Steve (2016-07-28). "Port of Churchill shut down after being refused bailout, premier suggests". The Canadian Press. Toronto Star. Retrieved 2016-10-06.
  7. ^ a b c d "How Ottawa abandoned Churchill, our only Arctic port". Maclean's. 2016-08-18. Retrieved 2016-08-24. The idea of building a deep-water port on Hudson Bay began in the 19th century. It was conceived as a great nation-building enterprise, a more direct route to Europe, and a strategic gateway giving Canada an indisputable claim to the Arctic. The rail line from The Pas took six years to build, cutting through the forest and over the muskeg. The first grain shipment left in 1931. In 1997, the Liberal government of Jean Chrétien sold the railroad and port to Omnitrax, based out of Denver. The port soon saw record volumes of exports being shipped to Europe, the Middle East, and even Africa. Then Stephen Harper’s Conservatives ended the Wheat Board monopoly, and farmers were free to sell their grain to whomever they chose. They chose companies shipping out of Thunder Bay or Vancouver. So the ships stopped coming, and in July Omnitrax announced it was closing the port and ending its rail freight service, too.
  8. ^ Kavanagh, Sean (14 September 2018). "Feds to spend $117M for Churchill railway sale, repairs". CBC News. Retrieved 14 July 2019.
  9. ^ Citizen, Thompson (July 10, 2019). "First ship docks at Churchill July 9 to load cargo bound for Nunavut". Thompson Citizen. Retrieved September 17, 2019.
  10. ^ a b Franz-Warkentin, Phil (2019-09-10). "Grain leaves Churchill for first time in four years". Grainews. Retrieved 2019-09-16.
  11. ^ "Port of Churchill moves under 100% local and Indigenous ownership". RealAgriculture.com. Retrieved 2021-03-24.
  12. ^ MacArthur, D Wilson (14 July 1936). "Canada's Prairie Port". Shipping Wonders of the World (23). Retrieved 8 February 2020.
  13. ^ Grabish, Austin (October 7, 2018). "'To us, it's a miracle': Churchill residents celebrate repair of railway washouts". CBC News. Retrieved September 16, 2019.
  14. ^ "Final Ship of Season Departs Churchill - Broe OmniTRAX". Archived from the original on 2013-05-09. Retrieved 2013-04-08.
  15. ^ port of churchill: port operations
  16. ^ Great Lakes Pilotage Authority - About GLPA
  17. ^ Great Lakes Pilotage Tariff Regulations (SOR/84-253), SCHEDULE III: PILOTAGE CHARGES FOR THE PORT OF CHURCHILL, MANITOBA
  18. ^ Winnipeg Free Press
  19. ^ a b "Churchill port makes 1st domestic grain shipment". CBC News Canada. CBC. 2007-09-19. Retrieved 2008-09-05.
  20. ^ "Canadian Wheat Board - 2008". Archived from the original on 2011-06-06. Retrieved 2009-02-19.
  21. ^ "Wheat exports big in Churchill". Winnipeg Free Press. 30 October 2009. Retrieved 2010-03-20.
  22. ^ "Farm Credit Canada".
  23. ^ Pauls, Karen; Coubrough, Jill (2015-12-01). "OmniTrax selling Port of Churchill, Hudson Bay rail line". CBC News. Retrieved 2016-10-06.
  24. ^ "Ottawa closes sale of Canadian Wheat Board, name changes to G3 Canada Ltd". CBC News. July 31, 2015. Retrieved 2017-04-12.
  25. ^ "Agreement signed for sale of Churchill port, Hudson Bay rail line". CBC News. December 22, 2016. Retrieved 2017-04-12.
  26. ^ "Arctic Gateway". www.facebook.com. Retrieved 2019-09-16.
  27. ^ "2010-11-01". 2010-12-13. Archived from the original on 2011-07-18. Retrieved 2010-12-13.
  28. ^ "Statement on Canada's Arctic Foreign Policy: Exercising : Sovereignty and Promoting Canada's Northern Strategy Abroad". Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada. Retrieved 2015-06-26.
  29. ^ "Archived - Minister Cannon Releases Canada's Arctic Foreign Policy Statement". Retrieved 2015-06-26.
  30. ^ Barker, John (21 Aug 2013). "Port of Churchill: Gateway to northern Europe for Alberta, Saskatchewan and North Dakota sweet crude oil?". Thompson Citizen. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  31. ^ "Jeff McEachern Executive Director, Churchill Gateway Development". CityAge Media. Retrieved 22 November 2017.

External links

  • Official Port of Churchill site
  • Archived copy of PortOfChurchill.ca, showing content that was available on September 3, 2018
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