When the Pointe-aux-Basques terminal was built by the federal government in Sept-Îles in 1950, it was designed primarily to support the new iron ore mining operations that were then being launched in and around the Labrador Trough, 600 kilometres north.

Seventy years later, the terminal is undergoing a nearly complete, $20-million makeover that will allow it to continue buttressing the growth of those now-massive mining operations as well as northern and coastal communities on Quebec’s rugged North Shore.

“The terminal has always been a lifeline into our region and a critical component of its development,” said Manon D’Auteuil, director of engineering and sustainable development at the Port of Sept-Îles. “But we needed to increase its size and capacity in order to handle heavier cargo.”

The upgrade began in May, when vibratory hammer-driven pilings and sheet piles were added to the front of the existing wharf and upper tie rods, fenders and the mooring system were replaced and/or upgraded.

The original 180-metre-long wharf, which is on the eastern extremity of the port of Sept-Îles, right next to Iron Ore Company of Canada’s property, was also lengthened 40 metres (or 15 per cent) by backfilling the space between the existing jetty and the retaining wall and redoing the terminal surface.

Most of that work, which is being paid for in equal shares by the Port of Sept-Îles, the federal government (through the National Trade Corridors Fund) and the Quebec government (through its maritime transportation infrastructure program), is expected to be finished by year’s end, with only the asphalt overlay and paving remaining to be completed in the spring.

The terminal is scheduled to reopen in July 2021 when cargo and passenger services to North Shore communities onboard the Bella Desgagnés resume at the Pointe-aux-Basques dock.  Those services were moved to the cruise ship terminal a year ago in preparation for the renovation project.

According to D’Auteuil, the upgrades to the Pointe-aux-Basques terminal will make it much better suited to meet the increasingly robust needs and demands of iron ore mining companies, northern communities and modern intermodal shipping.

In addition to being lengthened, the Pointe-aux-Basques terminal has had its bearing capacity more than tripled from 15 to 50 kilopascals, enabling handling of much heavier cargo.

“Cargo today is much bigger and more diversified,” she said.  “We now handle things like full-length railroad rails, huge generators, train locomotives and massive industrial machines and parts.  There’s also more general cargo and big specialized items like industrial assembly for mineral processing.”

Until now, D’Auteuil said the Port has had to redirect ships carrying oversized cargo across the Bay of Sept-Îles to La Relance terminal, where those items can be loaded onto trucks or railroad cars before being brought back to the Pointe-aux Basques dock or shipped directly from La Relance.

“Now we’ll be able to handle everything at the Pointe-aux-Basques terminal,” she said.  “It will make everything so much easier and greatly improves our operational abilities and capacity.”