By William Hryb

A gala luncheon on April 5th marked the opening of the 2018 shipping season for the port of Thunder Bay. The event, sponsored by Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce was sold out, with port, city and waterfront user groups in attendance. To celebrate the occasion, Julie Lambert, the newly minted ‘head of the Commercial team at Canada Steamship Lines’ was on hand as the keynote speaker.

“Thunder Bay is an important port at the heart of CSL’s grain transport program – it is the prime agriculture gateway for the marine transport of grain to world markets, and we are proud to be a part of it with you” Ms. Lambert said. This season was particularly special for the CSL Group, as the massive CSL Welland was the first ship into the port arriving at G3 Elevator on March 27th with veteran Captain Wilson Walters at the helm. CSL Welland happens to hold the record for loading the most grain on a laker with over 31,000 tonnes in 2016.

Being awarded the honorary ‘Top Hat’ award, symbolizing the opening of navigation, was a highlight for the veteran master, as he overcame a “second to arrive’ too many times for his liking. Ice conditions proved to be formidable with every precaution required to avoid any damage. “We were always on high alert … there are two people on the bridge with one crew member on the bow” Capt. Wilson said. “We kind of get in about seven, eight knots, and then pick up speed – we usually run at about 65 per cent propulsion on the engines getting up to about 80 – 85 per cent, because we need to force the vessel through the ice” he said.

Charla Robinson, who has been involved with the Chamber for nearly twenty years and has been its President for the past five years, was delighted hosting the event saying, “As a port city, the opening of navigation is one of the early signs of spring for our citizens – from a business perspective, it signals significant economic activity for the community as hundreds of employees return to work and the resulting increase in the purchases of supplies, services and retail items.

Canadian Sailings had the opportunity to discuss various issues facing the shipping industry with Ms. Lambert of Canada Steamship Lines:

CS: As you know, timely grain railcar delivery to terminals has been in the news…  the adage ‘we are as good as the railways want us to be” seems to ‘ring a bell’ to us in the shipping industry.  What is CSL doing to get the railways to co-operate with the grain industry to expedite grain deliveries to ports like Thunder Bay?

JL: – CSL is not involved directly in encouraging railways to cooperate with the grain industry to expedite grain deliveries to the ports. Grain companies have relationships directly with the railways, and are in the sternest position to influence them. That said, as an industry leader through our fleet renewal programs, utilizing innovative technologies to optimize vessel operations and decrease our environmental footprint, CSL has an important role to play in supporting the development of an efficient supply chain to the East and through the Great Lakes.

CS: Please give us an idea why Thunder Bay is so important to the CSL Group.

JL: Thunder Bay is an important port at the heart of CSL’s grain transport program. Last year, CSL moved approximately 37 per cent of the grain that transited through Thunder Bay. During the 2017 navigation season, grain represented 20 per cent of CSL’s business portfolio and 87 per cent of this volume came out of the port. It is highly efficient and our ships like calling there. We also value the strong relationships we have with the elevators and the people employed there.

CS: Looking into your crystal ball, what does the future look like for CSL in the Great Lakes?

JL: We are highly optimistic about CSL’s future on the Lakes for the next five years, and beyond. Grain yields continue to grow every year and the demand for Canadian wheat is strong. Recent robust economic growth is also continuing to positively impact demand of commodities generally on the Great Lakes. Following the Trillium Class newbuild program which started back in 2010, we are now starting to explore the next phase of our fleet renewal program which will see CSL invest in new ships for our Canadian operations.

Ms. Lambert joined CSL in 2012 and in 2017 was appointed head of its Commercial team. She oversees the delivery of customer service to existing clients and is in charge of developing new opportunities for the company throughout the Great Lakes and Atlantic Canada. She holds degrees in finance and common law from the University of Saskatchewan, and a civil law degree from the University of Ottawa.