By Alex Binkley

The ports of Thunder Bay and Valleyfield could be seen as the proverbial bookends of the Seaway-Great Lakes system, and they are both beefing up their facilities for handling breakbulk and project cargoes. Other ports on the Great Lakes, including Hamilton-Oshawa and Johnstown, are following similar paths to serve specialized industrial customers and growing wind farms.

Located 70 kilometres west of Montreal and close to the St Lawrence River and the Ontario border, Valleyfield handled about 500,000 tonnes of breakbulk cargo last year, says Jean-Philippe Paquin, the Port’s General Manager. He says the breakbulk and project business is growing because road congestion in and out of the port of Montreal makes it far more difficult to move large shipments by truck to and from there compared to his facility, which is located close to major Quebec and Ontario highways and roads to the United States and is served by the CN and CP, he said. The Port is expanding its breakbulk facilities under a $36 million project. “We’re trying to make it clear to everyone that we are part of the Seaway.”

Thunder Bay is in the final stages of reconfiguring its general and project cargo terminal with the commissioning of a new 50,000-square-foot heated facility during the first half of 2020, says Chris Heikkinen, the Port’s Communications and Research coordinator. The terminal is a supply chain hub for dimensional cargo destined for Western Canada and it handles wind turbines, mining equipment, structural steel and electrical infrastructure.

The Port launched the $15 million dollar project in 2018 to meet a growing demand for cargo staging, storage space and increased rail capacity. The work includes 2,800 feet of upgraded rail track and a net increase of 18 railcar spots to improve cargo handling efficiency. As well, six acres of new cargo laydown space has been constructed beside the tracks along with a new warehouse facility for staging, fabrication and light manufacturing. It replaces an aged on-dock storage shed that will be removed to improve cargo flow and terminal safety. There is storage capacity both indoors and outdoors for project and general cargo headed to Western Canada. Among the items it received late last year for forwarding in the coming months are a heavy-lift transformer and 40 mobile buildings.

In Hamilton, work continued on the $40 million Westport redevelopment project, with new dock walls, rail connections, and warehousing capacity under construction. Hamilton Oshawa Port Authority also announced a $16 million redevelopment of the Pier 10 area into a food cluster, with new infrastructure to support grain handling, flour milling and sugar refining.

The Valleyfield terminal is used to transship cargoes to Nunavut as well as Great Lakes destinations, Paquin said. Its facilities include three separate berths for dry bulk, a Ro/Ro (Roll-on/Roll-off) ramp, 77,500 square metres of paved laydown area for handling bulk merchandise and seven warehouses offering a total of 18,361 square metres of storage space. Last year Spliethoff’s Heavy Lift operation delivered 300-tonne refinery components to the Port. Valleyfield is promoting its breakbulk and project facilities with Great Lakes ports as a destination for shipments to be forwarded beyond the Seaway, Paquin said.

The port of Johnstown received 27,522 tonnes of breakbulk cargo last year, most of it for the Nation Rise Wind Energy Project in Eastern Ontario. That was about five times the amount of breakbulk the port handled in 2018. With municipal, provincial and federal financial support, the port expanded its cargo docks and developed laydown areas. The project also included the construction of a bypass road for the purpose of transporting big cargoes that could not fit under the International Bridge due to height restrictions. “The combination of these investments, the partnerships developed with Chamber of Marine Commerce, the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne and Logistec Stevedoring resulted in both the winning bid and the successful completion of the unloading of the vessels,” the port says.