Canada’s arctic port of Churchill is set to resume its first grain shipments since 2015 after a group backed by investor Prem Watsa stepped in last year to buy the facility and a related rail line linking the northern town with the rest of Manitoba.
The 88-year-old port on the shores of Hudson’s Bay will resume operations in the next few months, reducing by several days the shipping time to deliver grains to Europe and the Middle East across the Atlantic Ocean.
“This is the first season again in many years, so not everything’s going to go 100 per cent smoothly but we’re prepared; we have great staff and great systems in place, so we’re pretty excited,” Murad Al-Katib, chief executive officer of port owner Arctic Gateway Group, said in a phone interview.
The Arctic group includes Watsa’s Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd. as well as AGT Foods and indigenous groups. They purchased the port and rail line from OmniTRAX, which had closed the facilities after a decline in business from the collapse of the Canadian Wheat Board monopoly, and after flooding forced the shutdown of the rail line in 2017.
Arctic Gateway will be targeting durum, wheat, canola and lentil and pea crops from Manitoba and Saskatchewan for shipment to Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. Depending on the weather, Al-Katib said Canada’s only deep-water arctic port will stay open until the end of October or early November.
Even though Al-Katib is also CEO of the closely held grain company AGT Foods, the port is open for any grain companies. Al-Katib expects the first grain shipments will be from AGT.
Arctic Gateway is looking at shipping other commodities out of the port including forestry products, mineral concentrates, fracking sand and potash.
The resumption of the port and re-opening of the rail is also expected to give a shot in the arm to Churchill, a tourist town of about 1,000 people famous for excursions to see polar bears and beluga whales. Churchill was once an important base for the Hudson’s Bay Co., the oldest company in North America, which got its start in the fur-trading business in Canada’s north, and now owns Saks Fifth Avenue and other retail outlets.