Total cargo shipments through the St. Lawrence Seaway reached 34.6 million tonnes for the period from March 25 to November 30 — up 5 per cent over the same period last year. Seaway management expect the season will close ahead of last year by a similar margin.

Grain shipments (Canadian and U.S.) tallied 10.1 million tonnes, up 44 per cent over 2013. This total included the most Canadian grain routed through the Seaway for that period in 13 years. A surge in Prairie grain throughout the year has the Port of Thunder Bay on track for its best season in 16 years and Ontario grain exports through ports such as Hamilton, Windsor, Goderich and Port Colborne have also been up significantly this autumn.

Renewed construction activity and automotive manufacturing in Canada and the U.S. lifted steel shipments by 80 per cent this season to 2.2 million tonnes. The ports of Oshawa, Hamilton and Windsor have all seen major increases in steel imports.

Nearly 2 million tonnes of new business also helped to offset decreases in iron ore and coal shipments this year. One example of new cargo is European wood pellets inbound to the Port of Thunder Bay for transport to the city’s generating station on Mission Island. But close to a fifth of the new business total has been salt imports heading to destinations such as Detroit, Toledo and Milwaukee. These have been supplementing a huge demand by cities, towns, businesses, schools and hospitals for road salt from domestic mines. Salt shipments are up by 47 per cent to 3 million tonnes.

David Cree, CEO of Windsor Port Authority, commented that “Shipments out of Windsor Salt Mine’s Ojibway dock were up 26 per cent up to the end of October with barges travelling non-stop across the Detroit River and other domestic carriers transporting road salt to communities throughout the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region. Ontario grain exports have also been up 10 per cent and general cargo shipments have jumped by 50 per cent as steel has flowed into the port for the local automotive industries and construction manufacturing companies. These trends have all continued into November and we expect more of the same for the final month of the season.”

If weather conditions remain mild, and December volumes through the Seaway equal November volumes, the Seaway may set a new five-year volume record, and will be on its way in approaching pre-recession shipping levels.