The Port of Thunder Bay has reopened for the season and is already shipping products including grain.
The 2020 navigation season officially began Thursday with the arrival of the tug Sharon M1 and barge Huron Spirit.
The vessel combination came abeam of the Mission Pier entrance at 9:30 p.m. local time, port officials said in a news release.
As the first vessel to arrive in Thunder Bay after the spring opening of the Soo Locks, it received the port’s annual ‘Top Hat’ honour.
Owned and operated by Burlington, Ont.-based McKeil Marine, the tug-barge discharged about 5,000 tonnes of calcium chloride brine solution at Pollard Highway Products on the Kaministiquia River.
Thunder Bay’s Top Hat honour is usually captured by a bulk vessel taking on its first grain shipment of the season. That was nearly the case again; the bulker Algoma Sault arrived in port for grain just hours after the Sharon M1/Huron Spirit.
Another bulker that wintered in Thunder Bay, CSL Welland, has also departed the port with grain.
The St. Lawrence Seaway also began its navigation season last week, two days earlier than in 2019, as the Welland Canal portion of the waterway opened Tuesday (March 24), with the transit of the NACC Argonaut.
The seaway’s Montreal/Lake Ontario section is due to open Wednesday (April 1) in a “hybrid approach” which the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp. said will allow the waterway’s operators to move “record volumes” of water out of Lake Ontario, “to provide relief to lakeshore communities battered by high water levels.”
The re-opening of Thunder Bay provides another option for exporting grain from Western Canada. From the perspective of grain growers at the eastern end of the Prairies, railway car cycle times are faster because the Lakehead port is much closer than Vancouver or Prince Rupert.
Thunder Bay shipped nine million tonnes of cargo in 2019, with grain accounting for nearly 8.3 million tonnes of that total.
Grain stocks in Thunder Bay, as of March 22, came in at 693,700 tonnes, according to Canadian Grain Commission data.
As for the St. Lawrence, about 38 million tonnes of commodities and goods travelled on the seaway during its 2019 season, well down from the 10-year high of 40.9 million tonnes reported in 2018.
International trade tensions, adverse weather affecting Prairie grain harvests, and “difficult navigational conditions” due to high water flows on the St. Lawrence River itself all went to limit total cargo volumes on the waterway in 2019, the SLSMC said.
— Reporting for Glacier FarmMedia by Allan Dawson, MarketsFarm and GFM Network staff.