By Keith Norbury

The recent merger of the Hamilton and Oshawa port authorities should give shippers of project cargo and breakbulk more options for moving those cargoes, said the new President and CEO of the combined Hamilton-Oshawa Port Authority. “It gives us a more diversified value proposition in talking to customers, giving them a couple of different alternatives in terms of access to the marine in both facilities,” said Ian Hamilton.

“The project cargo portion of our businesses is relatively small, sort of under five per cent of the overall business,” Mr. Hamilton added, “But breakbulk, on the other hand, is quite an important piece of our business particularly in the steel sector, for both Oshawa and for Hamilton.”

Port statistics from recent years bear that out. Oshawa handled 199,968 tonnes of steel in 2017 but only 11,418 tonnes of project cargo. Hamilton handles much more steel, about seven million tonnes annually, including 7.2 million tonnes in 2018. “We see Hamilton and Oshawa as ports serving different commodity markets and different geographical markets,” Bruce Hodgson, Director of Market Development for the St. Lawrence Seaway said. “It is difficult to say if there will be an increase in traffic as a result of this recent change, as cargo shift is always dependent on competitive factors within and outside the system.” Mr. Hodgson added that the corporation takes a “system view” with its port partners and looks forward to continuing to work with the Port Authority “in developing new business.”

Steel imports from overseas to Hamilton soared in 2018, up by about 35 percent, which Mr. Hamilton attributed to tariffs Canada imposed on U.S. steel imports in response to tariffs that U.S. President Donald Trump imposed on Canadian steel imports into the U.S.

Now that those tariffs have been lifted, “steel now for both Hamilton and Oshawa is tracking very close to what a normal year would be,” Mr. Hamilton said.

In total, Hamilton handled 11.6 million tonnes of cargo in 2018 and 9.9 million tonnes in 2017. That compared with 408,567 total tonnes in Oshawa in 2017.

Hamilton, which has traditionally carried about 10 times the volume as Oshawa, is a much bigger operation, Mr. Hamilton pointed out. The Port Authority employs 55 people at Hamilton and only three at Oshawa.

Federal Marine Terminals, a subsidiary of Montreal-based carrier Fednav, does stevedoring at Hamilton, as does Quebec City-based QSL which also operates in Oshawa, Mr. Hamilton noted. “We have a long-term partnership with QSL in Oshawa, which we will continue to honour and work with them, and then here in Hamilton, where we’re quite delighted with the services that both FMT and QSL provide,” said Mr. Hamilton.

Fednav is among the carriers that carry project cargo and breakbulk to and from the port of Hamilton. Other such carriers include Canfornav, Spliethoff, and BigLift, which is now a Spliethoff subsidiary.

Among recent project cargo shipments, Hamilton handled some windmill blades in April. The blades arrived at the port’s FMT terminal from Trois-Rivières, Que. They required a Canadian-flagged vessel, so McKeil Marine carried them, said Emily Graham, a communications and community relations coordinator with the Port Authority. The wind blades then were transported to Sudbury, Ont.

The Port recently received commitments of financial contributions of about $23.2 million from the National Trade Corridor Fund that, combined with its own investments, will result in over $55 million in future port improvements. The first of those grants, announced in November 2018, will foot half the bill of the $34.45 million Westport modernization project. It will include a new dockwall at Pier 12, one of Hamilton’s busiest piers, grading and paving of cargo laydown areas, and railway, roadway and utilities improvements. The project is scheduled for completion in December 2020.

This past August, the federal government announced another $5.5 million grant from the National Trade Corridors Fund that will contribute to a $16 million expansion project at Hamilton to help turn Pier 10 into a “a dedicated agri-food cluster.” Mr. Hamilton noted that the agricultural side has been Hamilton’s biggest growth sector in recent years. “That’s not project cargo or breakbulk but it’s there,” Hamilton said. Nevertheless, he also noted that “both of those projects will help us to reconfigure our property to increase our capacity without occupying a larger land area.”

In addition, Hamilton is in the midst of its Randle Reef remediation project to clean up the largest contaminated site of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and other toxins on the Canadian Great Lakes.

The Port will also create another dock wall and additional capacity, when completed in 2022 or 2023, Mr. Hamilton said. The cost of that project is nearly $140 million, with the Canadian and Ontario governments each chipping in $46.3 million, and U.S. Steel Canada, the City of Hamilton, and the port each contributing $14 million.

As for Oshawa, Mr. Hamilton said one of the first exercises will be “to understand what infrastructure investments we can make to improve the capacity and improve the efficiencies there.” Oshawa has a reputation as an automotive hub. The potential for moving more machinery through that port is an interesting prospect, Mr. Hamilton said. “For example, as the General Motors facility evolves in Oshawa and is repurposed after it will close later this year as an assembly plant, the Seaway is a great way to bring in those large pieces of machinery and equipment to service that and to upgrade that facility,” Mr. Hamilton said. “As the power plants throughout Ontario are remediated and developed and refurbished, the waterways will help move these large components close to the refurbishing facilities, representing additional opportunity.”

Since the merger, Mr. Hamilton still spends the bulk of time at Hamilton. He lives at Niagara Falls, making Oshawa a long commute. Nevertheless, other staff from Hamilton have a regular presence in Oshawa. “We will continue to increase our presence there and see what opportunities we can uncover.”

Oshawa and Hamilton are on opposite sides of the Toronto metropolis, each about 60 to 70 kilometres away. That positions each port to capitalize on their respective strengths to best serve that huge market. One opportunity that Mr. Hamilton would like to focus on is moving steel exports from Hamilton to the marine transportation network. At present most of that steel moves by rail and truck into the U.S.