By William Hryb

It doesn’t take a genius to tell you that the port of Thunder Bay has made considerable strides in cargo performance over the last several years. The port on Lake Superior has developed the distinction of being a major hub for not only grain, potash and coal shipments, but special project cargoes as well. Guy Jarvis, Harbour Master and Director of Engineering said, “With the infrastructure improvements at Keefer Terminal and the acquisition of the new crane a few years ago ,we are confident we can build on previous past successes.”

Various dimensional cargoes bound for Western Canada, steel pipe, steel beams, windmill parts, modular buildings, gas turbines, heavy machinery and electrical transformers have highlighted a remarkable season for the port. Vasko Popovic, Operations Manager at Logistec Stevedoring said, “we certainly had a notable season with the diverse cargoes we handled at the Keefer Terminal… it looks like that trend will continue and look forward to another successful season in 2018.”

With overall cargo volumes exceeding the five-year average, the port topped 8.84 million tonnes in 2017. Although cargo statistics were only a fraction higher than the year before, port officials welcomed the increase regardless of an unexpected early end to the shipping season. Combined with frigid temperatures and ice rapidly forming in the harbour, the last grain shipment was loaded on CSL Laurentian on January 4th. “Normally we would be loading grain ships well into the 2nd week of January or just before the Soo Locks close on January 15th, but this year was different… despite seeing the end to another year, a lot of the guys are looking forward to some time off, but anticipate coming back in about 10 weeks,” said Paddy Johnson, Manager of Thunder Bay Grain Trimmers.

As the port settles into a deep freeze until March, there will still be considerable activity in the port with seven lake vessels scheduled to spend the winter months for maintenance and Transport Canada inspections. Fabmar Metals Inc., a local ship repair facility, partnered with Heddle Marine Service Inc. of Hamilton to provide ship repairs at the Thunder Bay Shipyard acquired by Heddle in 2016. Heddle’s yard operates the only drydock on the Canadian side of the Upper Great Lakes.

As an end of season wrap-up, Canadian Sailings sat down with Tim Heney, CEO of Thunder Bay Port Authority, to review the 2017 season and what he expected for the port in the coming years.

CS. ‘Project Cargo’ has been growing steadily over the past five years… this past season saw a significant increase in this type of specialized cargo… please describe why this has occurred and what the Port will look forward to in 2018.

TH. “The primary strategic objective of the Port is to increase and diversify cargo through the port. The Port has invested significant time, effort and capital to realize this objective through the development of a project and general cargo hub. The 2017 season was one of the most successful to date for this initiative; shipments included structural steel, steel pipe and rail, windmills, heavy equipment, electrical infrastructure, and a modularized hotel. “

CS. Cargo diversity has been a successful hallmark for Thunder Bay cargo shipments … aside from grain, potash and coal shipments, what new business do you anticipate in the next few years ?

TH. “We anticipate further strengthening of project cargo shipments in the next several years. Wind farm development is expected to pick up again, which is a cargo Thunder Bay is suited well for and has extensive experience handling.  One area in which we’ve seen growth over the past couple seasons, which has potential for further growth, is steel products. An initial shipment of structural steel bound for Western Canada in 2014 has led to repeat business for the port in each of the last three seasons. In 2017, steel shipments included rail and pipe.”

CS. The Port adopted a new name brand and logo this past fall. Why was the change necessary in view that the port certainly had name recognition with the prior name brand and logo ?

TH. “We started the re-branding process with a brand audit. We looked at positive and negative perceptions of the Port. We looked at examples of successful branding and we examined what gives us recognition beyond Thunder Bay. Our unique selling proposition is being the preferred marine route for European trade with western Canada, and our customers and stakeholders reiterated this through the re-branding process.

For the past decade one of our initiatives has been to raise the profile of the port locally, nationally, and internationally. It was recognized in our consultations that while our logo resonated well with local stakeholders, its meaning was more ambiguous in national and international markets. We are confident that our new visual strategy will make the Port brand immediately recognizable to a far-reaching audience. The new brand will resonate better with these target customers by modeling our key brand attributes like grain experience, access to Western Canadian markets, large capacity and customer service.”

CS. Lastly, the port has made substantial investments in acquiring lands adjacent to the Keefer Terminal complex. What plans does the Port Authority have for this sizeable real estate ?

TH. “The Intercity Site is a strategic asset for the Port. The 16-hectare brownfield site, with a 173,000 MT capacity elevator, is part of the Port’s long-term strategy for diversifying cargo and marine-related business opportunities in Thunder Bay.”