The traffic mix on the St. Lawrence Seaway and Great Lakes was long considered to be dominated by a staple regime of outbound grain and inbound iron ore. However, in recent years breakbulk and project cargo has shown steady growth as ports from Thunder Bay to Valleyfield improved their handling facilities for them.

Seaway traffic in July included 3.4 million tonnes of grain, and 2.9 million tonnes of iron ore along with 5.4 million tonnes of dry bulk and 1.4 million tonnes of general cargo.

Chris Heikkinen, Director of Business Development andCommunications at Port of Thunder Bay, said its Keefer Terminal has handled a variety of project and general cargoes this summer, such as steel products, windmill components, and mining equipment. The shipments included 88 large windmill tower sections that were delivered by ships and transported to Western Canada by rail from Keefer’s intermodal yard.

Thunder Bay is a supply chain hub for dimensional cargo destined for Western Canada, Heikkinen said. Shipments of imported steel, first handled in 2017, have grown every year. “Keefer handles pipe, rail, and structural steel for a variety of Western Canadian customers.”

The terminal underwent a major upgrade between 2018 and 2020 with funding support from the National Trade Corridors Fund and the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp.

The improvements included an additional 50,000 square feet of heated warehouse space, a new granular laydown area, upgraded railway track and increased railcar spots, all to accommodate growing demand and improve cargo handling efficiency. As well, there was a reconfiguration of the heavy-lift dockside and expanded storage and staging options for shippers. These upgrades complemented previous investments in the terminal including a Liebherr Mobile Harbour Crane and adjacent intermodal yard and top- lifter, he said. Accessed by both CN and CP, Thunder Bay has superior rail clearance to other Western ports and is the furthest inland port in Canada.

So far this year, the port of Valleyfield has seen “business as usual, as we receive record amounts of steel cargo, and the usual breakbulk and project cargo,” said Jean-Philippe Paquin, its General Director. “It’s on track to achieve its annual traffic of approximately 120 vessels during its nine month navigation season.” As for developments in the port, Paquin said it is “awaiting some developments on short-sea cargo opportunities as well as our berth extension project.”

The port offers an experienced and reliable stevedoring service and 11 warehouses that provide a total of 22,500 square meters of storage space. The facilities include eight berths, a dedicated area for handling bulk and breakbulk cargo, a fleet of wheel loaders, forklifts and flatbed trucks as well as a 125- ton capacity dockside crane. Cargo can be transferred to rail and road transport. The port, 70 kilometers southwest of Montreal, specializes in the transshipment and handling of liquid, solid bulk, general and project cargo. It has established itself as a logistics hub for southwest Quebec and Eastern Ontario and is active in handling shipments to communities and mines in the Canadian Arctic. Among the products it handles are steel, containers and general cargo.

Hamilton-Oshawa Port Authority (HOPA) showed off its capacity for handling project freight this year with the unloading of three hefty tunnel boring machines (TBMs) for the Metrolinx Eglinton Crosstown West Extension and Scarborough Subway Extension projects in Toronto. The machines, manufactured by Herrenknecht in Germany, were shipped across the Atlantic. A 12 metre in diameter TBM was unloaded in Oshawa for delivery to a subway extension project in Scarborough while two 6.5 metre in diameter TBMs were delivered to Hamilton for the Eglinton Crosstown work. The TBMs were so large they were shipped in pieces for assembly at their final destinations.

“As an integrated port network, we look to create better connections for businesses and industrial users moving cargo throughout the Greater Golden Horseshoe, just like Metrolinx does for rail passengers,” said Ian Hamilton, President & CEO of HOPA Ports.

The Scarborough TBM arrived at the port of Oshawa aboard the heavy load carrier Jumbo Vision and it took a week to unload the numerous TBM components. It was no simple task, said Kevin Paradis-Rioux, Senior Sales Representative for the port’s stevedoring firm QSL. “QSL is a provider of tailor-made solutions for all cargo types. This particular job took over a year to coordinate from start to finish. The discharge of the TBM was an example of the customized solutions we can provide for heavy equipment manufacturers.” The twin TBM cutter heads bound for the Eglinton Crosstown project came through the port of Hamilton aboard the Federal Delta, handled by stevedore Federal Marine Terminals.

HOPA is hopeful that more business will come to the port of Oshawa following improvements being made to its facilities through a $30 million expansion project. National Trade Corridors Fund (NTCF) is contributing $14 million in funding and HOPA is providing the remaining $16 million for the work that will expand the marine infrastructure in Oshawa. When complete, the port will be able to accommodate two docked vessels and provide improved loading and unloading times, as well as expanded storage capacity. The work will also include a new grain silo, upgraded roads and improved storm water management.

“At a time when we are all concerned about the resilience of the supply chain and the need to quickly, efficiently and safely get goods to market, this is welcome support,” Hamilton said. “A strong port of Oshawa is important to growing industry across Durham Region. We are grateful for the support of Transport Canada and the collaboration of our local stakeholders to bring these planned improvements to fruition.”

Meanwhile, HOPA Ports and Bioveld Canada have signed an industrial switching agreement with Canadian shortline operator GIO Railways to enable the use of existing CN Rail infrastructure at the Thorold Multimodal Hub to handle transload cargo on the Niagara Peninsula. GIO will provide first- and last-mile delivery and transload services for cargoes being loaded on, or unloaded from ships. HOPA hopes the development will help attract a range of industrial users who are looking to move goods through Southern Ontario, or into the Northeastern United States. “Integrating and expanding the rail service offering to our tenants and customers has always been part of HOPA’s vision for the Thorold Multimodal Hub,” said Jeremy Dunn, HOPA’s Commercial Vice President. “The fact that we have rail connecting indoor and outdoor transloading space and rail car storage right beside the Welland Canal are all part of what makes the Hub so unique.”

This agreement will improve connections and modal choice for customers, and expand trade flows through the Thorold Multimodal Hub, a 200 plus acre multimodal industrial complex. The site, owned by Bioveld, features marine, rail and highway access, as well as over 500,000 square feet of indoor warehouse and outdoor storage space, which can be configured to a wide variety of industrial, cargo handling and ancillary operations.

In the near term, rail users will have access to the site’s transload, integrated warehousing, and railcar storage capacity. Looking ahead, the site will include marine-rail connections, a reactivated gantry crane and rail scale as part of a tailored supply chain solution. “Our approach is to work with users to reactivate these assets in a customized way that meets the needs of contemporary users,” said Justus Veldman, Managing Partner of Bioveld Canada. It foresees potential value for users in sectors such as forest products, liquid bulk, plastics and metals, critical raw materials for the manufacturing and construction industry.

“Room to grow and complete multimodal connections represent value we are providing to users of the Thorold Multimodal Hub,” Dunn said. The addition of new supply chain options will provide modal choice and helping to alleviate pressure on regional highways.

Steve Salmons, President and CEO of Port Windsor, said the port has seen its traffic increase by 38 per cent to 5.8 million tonnes from 4.2 million tonnes a decade ago, handling shipments of fluorspar, steel, petroleum and heavy lift equipment. The Port hopes to expand its breakbulk and project cargo facilities and is waiting for an announcement on funding from the NTCF. Cargo stats for July provided further indication that the port has bounced back from the late start to the 2022 shipping season, he said. Meanwhile, general cargo is lagging as the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues to disrupt the usual exports of European steel through the Black Sea.

This year has also seen one of the more unique project cargo deliveries on the Great Lakes. Picton Terminals’ Amy Lynn D tug towed a 2,600 metre HDPE pipe from the port of Hamilton to Toronto Island as part of Toronto’s Deep Lake Water Cooling (DLWC) expansion project, which is the world’s largest lake water cooling system, utilizing the 4 degrees C water from the bottom of Lake Ontario to cool hospitals, data centers, educational campuses, government, commercial and residential buildings in downtown Toronto. Pipe assembly and flotation took several days in Hamilton, after which the pipe was towed by Amy Lynn D to Toronto where it was connected to shore facilities, and then filled with lake water to sink it to the bottom of Lake Ontario. The tug was aided in the project by several other boats and a work barge.