Years of improvements and investment are paying off handsomely for the port of Oshawa this year and setting the stage for its continued growth and prosperity. To the end of July, the port on Lake Ontario east of Toronto had handled 163,516 tonnes of cargo, a 60 per cent increase over the 102,400 tonnes recorded at the same point last year. Steel at 105,577 tonnes accounted for about two-thirds of the traffic followed by asphalt, calcium chloride and potash.

“We made the investments and now the business is coming,” says Donna Taylor, the long-time President and CEO of Oshawa Port Authority. “Over the decades, the Port has moved with the times. As cargo changes, so has the Port’s ability to meet the increasing demands of industry.”

The Port had high hopes that 2015 would be the year it turned the corner from building and expansion to gaining new business. “So far, this is one of our strongest shipping seasons ever,” Taylor adds. “With expansion drawing to completion, the port is in an ideal position to offer industry every advantage. The Port is really coming into its own.”

“With the rapid growth in the Greater Toronto Area home and condo construction market, there’s been strong demand for steel rebar,” she adds.

As congestion gets worse on the highways in and around Toronto, the Port hopes businesses recognize the competitive advantages of shipping through it. Among its advantages is a new spur track that has been built to connect the port to CN’s Montreal-Toronto mainline. As well, the port is close to Highway 401, the main route between the two cities, which links it to numerous border crossings into the United States. With the planned expansion to Oshawa of Highway 407, which bypasses downtown Toronto to the north, the ports’ links with the heartland of Ontario and access to the U.S. will increase even more.

Included in the improvements the Port has undertaken are a $2.5 million cargo pad on the east port lands, the East Wharf Consolidation Project to increase the berths for ships, and a transit shed, which provide shippers for more options in staging their freight for movement to its final destination. The improvements will also enable the port to handle far more cargo.

The investments “have succeeded in attracting new companies, and giving current port customers the confidence to expand,” adds Port Chairman Gary Valcour. The Port “has worked hard to get the word out that we’re open for business. With larger crews working more hours than ever before, it’s a real measure of the port’s success.”

The Port typically handles $23 million worth of cargo annually. However, last year 42 ships transporting 357,000 tonnes of bulk cargo called on Oshawa, a 22 per cent increase over 2013.

Among the other new businesses that chose to locate in Oshawa because of the Port is Triad Metals. A wholesale distributor of structural steel products in the U.S., Triad is building its first Canadian warehousing operation, which will enable it to serve customers in Ontario, Quebec, the Maritimes and U.S. far more efficiently. “Our new facility at the Port will also have a significant spinoff effect,” said Jeff Hroncich, Vice-President of Sales Canada for Triad. “It’s creating more work for cargo crews at the port, as well as trucking companies and distributors.”

The Port’s location is what attracted McAsphalt, one of the port’s early customers. “It allows us to ship our products by barge across the Great Lakes,” said John Carrick, President of McAsphalt. “The port has grown over the years, and so has our operation and our success. It was the leadership at the port that gave us the confidence to expand.”

Taylor also gives credit for the Port’s success to a strong relationship between the Port and Local 1997 of the International Longshoremen’s Association, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary.

Taylor says when all the projects are complete, more of the shipping activities will be consolidated on the east side of the Port. That will boost productivity and cut costs for shipping lines and their customers.

Among the inquiries about shipping prospects, local farmers are considering using the port to move their grain to market. The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway are already being utilized to move Prairie and Western Ontario grains.