Port of Churchill – Development Timeline
- 27 Aug 2016
- National Post – (Latest Edition)
- Sources: Port of Churchill; Federal- Provincial Task Force on the Future of Churchill; Postmedia files; Winnipeg Free Press; Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench
1910: The government decides to establish an 820- km railway line from The Pas to the Manitoba shoreline of Hudson Bay, where a deepwater port would be built to export Prairie grain. Fort Nelson is chosen.
1918: Railway construction to Fort Nelson is abandoned because of wartime priorities and shortages.
1926- 29: The railway is redirected to Churchill, where construction begins on seaport and grain- handling infrastructure. The port is completed in 1928, and regular train service begins a year later. Canadian National Railway operates what becomes known as the Hudson Bay Railway.
1950s-1960s: Port activities diversify, with commodities such as honey, lumber and livestock hauled by rail for export, and imports such as automobiles, machinery and chemicals arriving by freighter.
1977: The port exports a record 777,500 tonnes of grain, all of it arranged by the Canadian What Board (CWB), a Crown corporation established to market Prairie grain. The Soviet Union emerges as a major customer.
1988: Because of drought conditions, the port exports just 50,000 tonnes of grain.
1996- 97: Denver- based OmniTRAX Ltd. acquires more than 1,000 km of CNR railway in Manitoba, including the line to Churchill. Ottawa contributes $ 14 million to complete the deal and sells the port of to OmniTrax for $ 1. It also agrees to spend $ 28 million on port improvements, with Manitoba kicking in $ 6 million.
2002- 03: OmniTRAX says the rail and port operations can’t continue without firm shipping commitments from the CWB. Churchill mayor Mike Spence says the company may not open the summer shipping season. The federal and Manitoba governments each hand over $ 900,000 for port and track maintenance.
2012: The CWB is reorganized and no longer monopolizes grain sales through ports such as Churchill. Shipments begin to slide.
2013: The Federal- Provincial Task Force on the Future of Churchill says since 1997, Ottawa and Manitoba have spent or committed $ 197 million “to benefit, directly or indirectly, both the privately owned port and rail line leading to it, and the Community of Churchill.”
2014: OmniTRAX abandons plans to haul oil to the port by rail.
2015: OmniTRAX negotiates but does not finalize the sale of its railway and port to a consortium of Manitoba First Nations. The province contributes another $ 800,000 for capital improvements at the port.
April 2016: OmniTRAX files a civil claim in Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench, alleging Manitoba, then- premier Greg Selinger and the then-transportation minister unlawfully disclosed to third parties confidential information about the rail and port, jeopardizing their potential sale.
July 2016: OmniTRAX announces it has suspended the summer shipping season.
August 2016: OmniTRAX says Manitoba is contractually required to spend another $ 1.74 million for capital improvements on the port, adding that payment “is still outstanding.”