A facilitator of world trade that connects clients to international markets

‘Trading with the World’ is more than just a tagline for the Port of Montreal. It defines the port’s identity and its positioning as a key component of global supply chains and a major international port that trades with the world.

“Freight transportation decisions today are being made in the larger context of supply chain management,” said Sylvie Vachon, president and CEO of the Montreal Port Authority (MPA). “Globalization is redefining the rules of the game and how quickly ports must adapt. Ports must be facilitators of world trade.

“As a core element of the supply chain, the Port of Montreal wants to be seen as the engine that leads trade growth. Within this role, we act as a catalyst for economic development for the city and the entire country. We drive business growth for our clients by connecting them to their markets. And we facilitate supply chain performance for our partners.”

Montreal is well positioned at the centre of a truly integrated marine, rail, road and pipeline network. It is a major hub for freight transportation and a diversified port that welcomes more than 2,000 ships annually carrying all types of cargo to and from all parts of the world.


The Port of Montreal’s success on global markets is anchored in a number of strategic advantages.

Montreal is on the shortest direct route from Europe and the Mediterranean to North America’s industrial heartland. Brian Slack, a geography, planning and environment professor at Concordia University in Montreal and an expert on maritime transport and intermodality who has conducted a study on transit times to Canadian ports, said: “Regarding transit times from Europe to East Coast ports, it was clear that Montreal stood out well. Shorter transit times compared to New York or Norfolk are a particular advantage that Montreal possesses.

“Transit times are one component. In addition, there is transit time to the customer. Historically, Montreal has an advantage landside.”

With its strategic location 1,600 kilometres inland, Montreal is the closest international container port to North America’s industrial heartland. Its market reach is impressive: the port provides access to 40 million consumers within one trucking day and another 70 million consumers within two rail days. It has excellent highway connections to the hinterland, and it is directly connected to Canadian National and Canadian Pacific railways.

“Montreal has rail right on dock. Block trains are assembled for direct movement daily to Toronto, Detroit and Chicago,” Mr. Slack said.

“If you consider total transit time – ocean transit time to Montreal and then door-to-door delivery – the port does very well.”

“I don’t think there is any question that Montreal is the most strategically located port for access to North Atlantic and Mediterranean destinations from Canada’s heartland, to say nothing of the U.S. Midwest,” said Christopher Gillespie, president and CEO of Gillespie-Munro Inc., a full-service Canadian freight forwarding firm based in Montreal.

Thanks to its advantageous transit times, Montreal is a leader on the market between Europe and Central Canada and the U.S. Midwest.

European markets, including the Mediterranean, represent close to 65 per cent of container traffic moving through the port. Ninety-eight per cent of Quebec importers and exporters and 93 per cent of Ontario importers and exporters choose the Port of Montreal to reach European markets.

Moreover, one container in four moving through the port has its point of origin or destination in the U.S. The Midwest is a highly coveted and huge consuming market. In addition, Chicago is the only location in North America where the six Class 1 North American railways cross; it’s a distribution point that reaches the entire continent.

Beyond its strength on the North Atlantic, Montreal has succeeded in increasing its cargo volumes with other regions of the world. It benefits from traffic moving through the Suez Canal and the Panama Canal thanks to the direct services that shipping lines now provide between Montreal and transshipment ports in Northern Europe and the Mediterranean, and in the Caribbean. (See separate article in this Port Feature.)

Leading global carriers

Many of the world’s leading global container shipping lines – CMA CGM, Hapag-Lloyd, Maersk, MSC and Maersk – provide dedicated weekly or twice-weekly services through the Port of Montreal.

“At the Port of Montreal, schedules are generous,” Mr. Slack said. “Shipping lines have time in port to adapt and to make up for any unavoidable delays. This is beneficial for both shippers and carriers.”

Montreal is a one-stop port where carriers do not make any intermediate calls before arriving in Montreal. “For a shipping line, being the only port of call is one big advantage,” Mr. Slack said. “It is easier to arrange stacking and ship-offloading operations. So there is an operational advantage to call Montreal.”

Cost efficiency is another advantage. Vessels are completely unloaded and loaded in the port, meaning equipment flows are balanced.

“In Montreal, trade is balanced, unlike the West Coast where there are a lot of empties, and where balancing full and empty containers is a problem,” Mr. Slack said.

Port users can also count on supply chain collaboration where continuous communication among the MPA, terminal operators and railway companies ensure short dwell times for containers and seamless operations.

“There are simply no other ports with the facilities, frequency of direct services, and rail and truck service infrastructure that can come close to the Port of Montreal’s capabilities in these regards,” Mr. Gillespie said.

How does the Port of Montreal position itself moving forward as a key component of global supply chains and a facilitator of world trade?

“The port has to show customers and shipping lines that it is efficient,” Mr. Slack said. “Performance is the number one objective. It has to be cost efficient. It has to be innovative. It has to have room for expansion; this is where Contrecoeur comes in.”

The Port of Montreal owns land along four kilometres of waterfront at Contrecoeur, located about 40 kilometres downstream from its facilities on the island of Montreal. This land will be used to increase the port’s container-handling capacity once land on the island of Montreal reaches full capacity.

“The port has a dynamic team in place to respond to customers and lines. It is efficient and it is cost competitive,” Mr. Slack said. “The mood is upbeat.”