By Alex Binkley

Tonnage handled by Canada’s main ports slipped during 2015 in line with declines in shipments of resources and other bulk products, say figures supplied by 18 Port Authorities. Preliminary results compiled by Canadian Sailings indicate that total 2015 tonnage for the ports was down about 1.5 per cent compared to the 311.1 million tonnes handled during 2014.

The best year since 2009 was 2013 when 313.8 million tonnes passed through the ports. The 2015 results largely mirror Statistics Canada’s international merchandise trade numbers for last year. By volume, imports rose by 4.4 per cent while exports decreased by 0.9 per cent. That shifted Canada’s trade balance to a deficit of $23.3 billion in 2015 from a surplus of $4.8 billion in 2014.


Port Metro Vancouver saw its total traffic drop by 1.2 per cent to 126.9 million tonnes for the 11 months ended Nov. 30. Imports of loaded containers rose by 4 per cent while loaded export containers increased 1.5 per cent. Full details were to be released after Canadian Sailings had gone to press. A PMV spokeswoman would only say, “2015 was another strong cargo volume year at the port.” By product categories, the Port handled increased movements of processed foods, crops, machinery and vehicle shipments and consumer goods. At the same time, shipments of chemicals, metals, forest products, fertilizers and petroleum products were down.

According to preliminary statistics, Port of Montreal had a record year handling 32.0 million tonnes of cargo in 2015, some 5.2 per cent more than in 2014. The Port Authority will provide final figures when it releases its annual report later this year.

Port of Saint John posted a 10 per cent increase over 2014 with a total of 26.4 million tonnes. Container shipments reached 610,588 tonnes, about 45,000 metric tonnes higher than 2014.  Dry bulk shipments reached 1.36 million tonnes, down about 20,000 tonnes from 2014. The decline is mainly the results of lower shipments of recycled metals, said port spokeswoman Paula Copeland. Potash and salt accounted for most of the dry bulk traffic.

Port of Quebec reported a rounded figure of 21 million tonnes handled during 2015. Details on the decline from 24 million in 2014 were to come later, the Port said.

Traffic through Port of Sept-Iles dropped 4.5 per cent to 22.7 million tonnes, mainly due to the closure of Cliffs Natural Resources in Pointe-Noire. Meanwhile shipments by Rio Tinto IOC rose by 24 per cent to 17.8 million tonnes while Tata Steel Minerals Canada added 2.3 million tonnes. The Port is optimistic that two new shiploaders delivered last fall will increase the efficiency of its multi-user dock. Pierre Gagnon, President and CEO of the Port, said, the new loaders “can make all the difference in a bearish iron market. The use of larger vessels such as the Chinamax ships can reduce transportation costs by 30 per cent to 40 per cent and enable shippers to remain competitive in an oversupplied global market.”

Shipments through Port of Prince Rupert dipped by 0.3 per cent as falling coal and other bulk cargoes offset a 26 per cent surge in container volumes and higher movements of grain and wood pellets. The results “demonstrate the importance of cargo diversification, given the dramatic change in market conditions for Canadian trade,” said Don Krusel, President and CEO. The 2015 results “signify the port’s ability to weather commodity cycles and capitalize on opportunities for expansion and new development,” he added. Container traffic was at a record high of 776,412 TEUs “solidifying the Port’s status as one of North America’s fastest-growing intermodal terminals.” Exports of steel-making metallurgical coal through Ridley Terminals were down over 60 per cent from 2014, resulting in a six-year low for bulk energy shipments through the port. However, the movement of Prairie crops through Prince Rupert Grain contributed to the second-best year on record for agri-food exports with 6.4 million tonnes shipped.

Hamilton saw its tonnage drop by 12.2 per cent to 9.3 million tonnes. Bruce Wood, President & CEO of Hamilton Port Authority noted that overseas cargo remained strong with 0.5 per cent increase over 2014’s level. However, in response to flagging prices, steel manufacturers significantly reduced inbound raw material shipments of iron ore and coal, amounting to a 973,900 tonne decrease for those commodities. Finished steel inbound shipments remained strong in 2015, exceeding the five year average by 54 per cent. Port of Hamilton’s second-largest sector is agri-food. Fertilizer cargo increased 14.8 per cent over 69,106 tonnes over 2014. Grain cargo showed a decline of 25 per cent relative to 2014’s peak shipping year. “We are extremely optimistic for the coming seasons. HPA expects a rebound in agricultural-related cargo by 2017, when a new G3 Canada Ltd. grain terminal and a new Parrish & Heimbecker flour mill are both expected to be operational. Among the remaining smaller sectors, liquid bulk products posted a 11.6 per cent decrease, while aggregates increased 26.9 per cent and cement clinker, quartz, sand and salt posted a 20.2 per cent increase 2014. Modal integration with rail continues to be increasingly important to the Port of Hamilton, he said. Almost all of the Port’s new tenants are seeking rail access. The Port handled 5,414 rail cars in 2015; a 24 per cent increase over 2014. 

While traffic through Thunder Bay declined by 4.6 per cent to 8.9 million tonnes, Port CEO Tim Heney said it was the third highest level since 2000 and “17 per cent stronger than the five year average of 7.6 million tonnes. Grain is the major commodity handled by the Port and it slipped to just over 8 million tonnes from 8.3 million in 2014 when the port was still handling the record shattering 2013 Prairie crop. Heney noted that grain shipments surged in November and December to 2.3 million tonnes. The other bright spot for the port was project and general cargo.

Port of Halifax posted a 3.4 per cent drop in total traffic, representing a sixth consecutive decline in volumes. Container traffic rose to 418,359 TEUs, up 4.6 per cent over 2014. Other shipments reached 405,340 tonnes, down 13 per cent from 2014, a decrease of 13 per cent. Total container tonnage through Halifax in 2015 was 3.8 million metric tonnes, virtually unchanged from 2014. Spokesman Lane Ferguson said container volume has been increasing since last April. “In August, we saw new and expanded services, and all the carriers calling Halifax have been working hard to fill their slot space. CN has been a tremendous partner, and labour continues to play an important role.”

Port of Windsor reported 5.64 million tonnes, a 3.8 per cent increase in tonnage for 2015. David Cree, Port Authority President and CEO, called the performance a nice rebound after a slump in 2014 following the record year in 2013. The 2015 traffic came in well above both the 5- and 10-year averages for the port. “Although we did record weaknesses in several of our cargo categories, stone and construction aggregates had a remarkable year, increasing by almost 50 per cent over 2014 and accounting for the overall gain in traffic,” he said. “This substantial increase in construction materials was generated by the start of construction of the new customs plaza, which will serve the Gordie Howe International Bridge.” However shipments of salt, petroleum, grain and general cargo were below the 2014 results. “While declines in any commodities are disappointing, we do not see any of these as establishing a trend; they merely represent the normal cycles we experience based on numerous factors, including local economic conditions and world markets.”

Port of Nanaimo saw a 17 per cent increase in tonnage reaching 4.85 million tonnes. Container traffic rose by 39 per cent, noted Bernie Dumas, President & CEO of Nanaimo Port Authority. The increase is due in large part to progress on the Duke Point Expansion Project, which has boosted cargo-handling capacity which benefitted from the installation of a new mobile harbour crane. A $9.3 million upgrade of the barge berth and a deep sea berth “allows us to provide simultaneous operations for Short Sea Shipping links to Mainland terminals and direct connections to global markets. We will be able to service post-Panamax ships handling almost any cargo type, reduce congestion and delays with improved berthing options.”

Trois-Rivieres Port Authority reported an 18.9 per cent drop in tonnage to 3.0 million tonnes, led by a drop of 700,000 tonnes to 2.6 million tonnes in shipments of dry bulk traffic, mostly attributed to a decline in transshipments thought the port’s grain terminal. It has been transferred to G3 Canada from the former Canadian Wheat Board, which should bring more deliveries to the terminal this year. General cargo traffic increased by 50 per cent to 140,000 tonnes while liquid bulk traffic remained at 300,000 tonnes.

Port of St. John’s handled 1.8 million tonnes in 2015, an 8 per cent increase over 2014. Spokesman Bob McCarthy said the port saw increases in its three categories of freight. General cargo rose to 936,126 tonnes, liquid bulk was up to 751,414 tonnes from 692,418 and dry bulk climbed to 116,577 tonnes from 95,609 tonnes. He credited a steady rise in shipments by Oceanex vessels for the port’s improved performance.

Belledune saw a 7.2 per cent increase to 1.77 million tonnes. No further details were available.

Port of Toronto handled 1.65 million tonnes during 2015, a drop of 17.5 per cent from 2014.  Despite the decline, the port notes that it posted a 7 per cent increase in cement traffic to 590,214 tonnes. That was its best figure for the commodity in at least eight years, said spokeswoman Erin Mikaluk. That took 14,755 forty-tonne trucks off Ontario highways and another strong performance delivering cement is in store for this year.

Port Alberni tonnage was down 5.6 per cent to 1.6 million tonnes due almost entirely to a drop in international exports of raw logs even though domestic shipments of them rose, noted Mike Carter, Terminal & Marine Facilities Manager.

Port of Oshawa reported a 5.9 per cent increase in volumes to more than 378,000 tonnes of cargo. Shipments of potash, magnesium chloride and asphalt were up along with steel. “Steel continues to lead our cargo volumes in a big way with 190,000 tonnes moving through the port this past year,” said Donna Taylor, President and CEO. A new rail spur made it possible to move steel that arrived by ship to western Canada. Port of Oshawa also hopes to gain business from projects funded by the federal government infrastructure plans.

Port of Saguenay posted a 21.4 per cent increase in traffic to 340,000 tonnes. No further details were provided.