Port of Churchill moves to 100 per cent local ownership

Corporate partners step out of owner group

MarketsFarm — The Port of Churchill is undergoing an ownership transition that will see its OneNorth community and Indigenous partners assume 100 per cent ownership of the Hudson Bay port and the rail line connecting it to northwestern Manitoba.

The Churchill Marine Tank Farm and associated assets are also part of the deal, according to an Arctic Gateway Group release.

Pulse and durum processor AGT Foods and Ingredients and Toronto-based Fairfax Financial Holdings had held the other 50 per cent of the assets, up until the transition earlier this month, the partnership said.

“A tremendous amount of hard work has seen northern communities reach this critical milestone,” Churchill mayor and OneNorth co-chair Mike Spence said in the news release. “Together with our partners we are taking the next important steps to realize our vision for a national Arctic trade corridor.”

The OneNorth consortium of Indigenous and northern communities said it’s committed to the long-term success of the rail line and trade corridor.

The port and rail line have seen a significant turnaround since 2018, the partnership said, citing work to establish a local governance structure, which includes leadership from across northern Manitoba, to form the partnership.

“Our communities are ready to step up,” OneNorth co-chair and Opaskwayak Cree Nation Onekanew (chief) Christian Sinclair said. “We have a multi-generational socioeconomic development vision that will take this work forward as a truly northern Canadian success story.”

Under a 2018 partnership agreement supported by the federal government, AGT and Fairfax assisted OneNorth leadership in taking the Arctic Gateway Group through a “critical transition.”

Since then, passenger and freight rail service have been restored and port services have fully resumed for both import and export, including six cargo re-supply vessels for Nunavut.

Regina-based AGT will continue to provide management services during the transition period and plans to negotiate a terminal handling agreement to ship grain through the Port of Churchill.

Health and safety upgrades were undertaken on all operations, and environmental remediation and decommissioning of the former fuel tank farm was undertaken with the installation of new tanks., the partners said.

“We are very proud of all that we have accomplished over the past two and a half years with our partner, OneNorth,” AGT CEO Murad Al-Katib said in the same release.

“The long-term economic and social impact of this critical national infrastructure corridor will provide benefits to Canadians for generations.”

The port and railway had faced an uncertain future when its previous owner, U.S.-based rail operator OmniTrax, closed the rail line in 2017, after sections were washed out in high water.

After three years of no rail traffic to or from Churchill, OmniTrax sold the line to the Arctic Gateway Group consortium.

Compared to other Canadian grain-handling ports, Churchill is plagued by a much shorter shipping season, and the rail line is hampered by the shifting whims of the northern tundra.

However, loading at Churchill shaves off significant travel time for grain vessels bound for major export destinations such as in Europe, relative to ports in southern Canada such as Thunder Bay.

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