Port of Churchill closed, shipping traffic to pick up in Thunder Bay

Last week’s closure of the Port of Churchill (Manitoba) came as a surprise to its workers, among them the town mayor. Mayor Mike Spence confirmed with CBC that about 50 employees were handed layoff notices and another 40 or 50 were waiting to receive similar news via telephone.

“It came out of nowhere,” Spence told CBC. “The community, the employees are devastated by this all. We’re going to have to work at this and rectify this matter… hoping we can reverse this.” Spence also told CBC that he’s contacting provincial and federal governments to ask for intervention.

The port is a major employer in Churchill; it is run by OmniTrax, a Denver-based company. OmniTrax has been trying to sell the port for some time. CBC also interviewed Elden Boon, president of the Hudson Bay Route Association. The association is an advocacy group for the Port of Churchill. He stated the layoffs were sudden to him too, saying that officials from OmniTrax told him there wouldn’t be any more grain shipments going through the port this year, but never indicated there would be layoffs. Boon said this season would mark the first that the port has been shut down since  World War II.

As the Port of Churchill shuts down its operations, it’s expected that the shipping business will shift to Port of Thunder Bay. CBC spoke with Tim Heney, CEO of Thunder Bay Port Authority, who stated that its operations would be marginally affected by the closure.

“The two ports, of course, both do grain, primarily,” Tim Heney, CEO of the Thunder Bay Port Authority said. “Churchill’s much smaller in size. Their historic average shipments were about 500,000 tonnes, whereas Thunder Bay, in the last couple years, is running between eight and nine millions tonnes.”

Henry contextualized 500,000 tonnes as “about 10 days’ shipment” for Thunder Bay.

Henry speculated that the Churchill port was closed in part due to elimination of the Canadian Wheat Board. The CWB used to be in charge of grain transportation in Canada, but is since defunct. Private companies now handle the shipping of their own product, now mostly done through the St. Lawrence Seaway. Heney states that this is fortunate news for Thunder Bay and parts of Quebec, but that he empathizes with those who’ve lost their jobs in Churchill.

For the full CBC story and interview with Heney, click here. 

For the initial CBC story and interview with Churchill mayor Mike Spence, click here.


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