The St. Lawrence Seaway’s 54th season was launched at Lock 3 of the Welland Canal in St. Catharines, Ont., on March 22, and was marked with the transiting of the McKeil tug Wilf Seymor and barge Alouette Spirit. Captain Rob Dominaux and Chief ­Engineer Otto Cooper were on hand to receive the ceremonial Top Hat, ­presented by Kathleen Powell of St. Catharines Museum.

In his greeting, Mayor Brian McMullan mentioned that Dilts Piston Marine of St. Catharines is manufacturing the hydraulic winches being used on the Algoma Equinox vessels. The finished goods are shipped directly to China for incorporation into the ships.

Keynote speeches were delivered by Rob Bryson, Vice-President of Parrish & Heimbecker’s (P&H) Grain Group, and Donald Gallienne, Manager Metal Transportation & Logistics, Aluminerie Alouette Inc.

P&H made headlines last August with the grand opening of its twin dome facility in Port of Hamilton. Mr. Bryson told the audience “This Seaway system is a critical pillar in the development of our future. It has the key elements of what we need now in North America. It is sustainable, and our economic strategy can align itself with our social strategy. There is ample room for growth and as it grows, we will become more and more competitive. And finally, there is room for innovation which will keep us competitive around the world”.

In 2012, Aluminerie Alouette projects it will produce more than 600,000 tonnes of aluminum making it the tenth largest smelter in the world. Using the McKeil barge allows it to take 6,000 trucks off a local two-lane highway.

“Since our first expansion in 2005, we are currently planning the second expansion phase of our smelter that would increase our annual production to a potential 900,000 tonnes per year, making us the fifth largest smelter in the world, and likely increasing our usage of the Seaway, said Mr. Gallienne.

Bruce Hodgson, Director of Business Development, SLSMC, reported that “we had a pretty good year in 2011 overall, with a 3 per cent in­crease in cargo volumes, and we think this bodes well considering the overall state of the economy here and abroad”.

Collister Johnson Jr., Administrator, SLSDC, stated “After removal of the 25 per cent duty on foreign builds there has been an explosion of investment. Over the next three years you’re going to have 25 new, efficient Seaway-class ships that will make us more competitive”.

Steve Fletcher, President, McKeil Marine commented that “One of our greatest thrills is working with companies to move truck and rail cargoes onto marine transport. The Seaway’s innovative approach working with us has allowed us to convert more cargo movements to water”.

Note: The Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation (SLSDC) is responsible for operating the U.S. portion of the St. Lawrence Seaway, while The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation (SLSMC) is responsible for operating the Canadian sections.