New Player May Facilitate Port and Rail Sale

With little time to waste a new player has surfaced in the crucial sale of the Port of Churchill to two independent First Nations groups in the north. Investment firm Fairfax Financial Holdings from Toronto hopes to partner with One North and Missinippi Rail LP to wrest ownership from Denver, Colorado-based Omnitrax and set forth in motion the extensive repairs to the Hudson Bay Line damaged by severe flooding last May.

Port of Churchill

The Port of Churchill may be under new ownership soon. CBC News photo.

The new prospective partner will also bring a financially sound backing and a strong business base to the deal that Churchill officials and residents hope will secure access to the south and free them from isolation.

According to reliable sources, a negotiator for the federal government, former clerk of the Privy Council Wayne Wouters, has brokered a deal with the two potential owners.

“This development has the potential to contribute to an arrangement supported by First Nations and communities in northern Manitoba,” Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr said in a statement released Thursday.

“This would enable a sustainable business approach that results in a safe and reliable rail line.”

Paul Rivett, president of Fairfax Financial Holdings, said “we are optimistic about the prospects of northern gateways.” stated in a press release.

“The Churchill rail corridor and the Port of Churchill are important pieces of infrastructure for northern communities and to the economy of Canada. Partnering with First Nations and communities is the right model for this investment,” Rivett said.

He said Fairfax will rely on a company it has invested in, AGT Foods, to develop a plan that is “viable and profitable in the long term as a business.”

Earlier this week, Ottawa responded with an $18-million lawsuit against Omnitrax after it filed filed a claim for damages against the federal government under the rules of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The head of the Fairfax, V. Prem Watsa, has been characterized as the “Warren Buffet of Canada” often investing in troubled companies and turning them into a positive entity. Watsa invested in BlackBerry and Fairfax has significant holdings in several other companies.

V. Prem

Fairfax Financial CEO and chair V. Prem Watsa.CBC News photo.

Omnitrax signed a memorandum of understanding with First Nations Consortium Missinippi Rail in June and then joined forces with One North to strengthen interests in purchasing Omnitrax’s Manitoba assets.

Churchill Mayor Mike Spence, in a written statement to CBC News, said transferring the port and rail line to a stable, strong northern regional ownership group is the highest priority. He is behind the efforts to find a partner to purchase the assets one hundred per cent.

“I am pleased that there are outstanding companies that also share this vision. We now need the negotiations expedited and [to] ensure our preparations for repairs to the rail line and port are ready for the 2018 season,” wrote Spence.

Northern Lights Churchill Cabin

Can you believe the texture of these fantastic northern lights shots from Churchill photographer Alex De Vries – Magnifico? Just because aurora borealis season doesn’t technically start until January, that doesn’t mean the lights can’t appear in this dramatic fashion over a rustic cabin in Churchill, Manitoba…as they tend to do. Alex has a knack for finding new and creative settings in and around Churchill where he can capture the essence of this amazing phenomena! We are surely all getting excited about polar bear season which is just around the corner but northern lights season has an allure of its own that is indescribable. Lights can happen year – round in Churchill and the polar regions, however, polar bears can only be seen with assurance in October and November. Luckily polar bears have migrated to the ice by the time travelers arrive for northern lights in January! Both seasons are worth the trip north.

Churchill northern lights Alex De Vries Magnifico

Churchill cabin and northern lights

Aurora Borealis in Churchill, Manitoba

Northern lights cabin in Churchill, Manitoba

Churchill Murals Come at Right Time

Churchill has been through some tough times lately. Floods resulting from two huge March blizzards have eroded nearly 20 sections of train track from Gillam to Churchill. Eighteen artists from around the world have journeyed to Churchill for the ocean conservation event known as Sea Walls Festival. A couple of the artists have come from as far away as Brazil and New Zealand. With them comes the hope and inspiration this town needs!

Sea Walls mural in Churchill. Alex De Vries – Magnifico photo.

“I just think it’s really amazing to be mindful of communities like this,” said New Zealand artist Elliot O’Donnell, who makes art under the name Askew One.

“We live in a world that is increasingly refocused around city life, and we forget sometimes about the people who live in these really remote places and just kind of how delicate the situation is.”

The artists involved in this project hope to bring awareness to the importance and urgency of protecting the world’s oceans. Part of that protection process involves global warming and its effects on the rest of our habitat.

Churchill Sea Walls murals

A grand mural takes shape in Churchill. Alex De Vries – Magnifico photo.

“It’s the ocean that connects us so our relationship with the ocean is very important, and it’s also a very precarious sort of relationship,” stated O’Donnell.

Churchill, on the edge of civilization in the north of Manitoba, has had extreme weather conditions this spring leading to the destruction of a major lifeline of the town, the Hudson Bay Line.Without this transport mode Churchill faces rising costs in food, fuel and other vital supplies to the community. With airplanes the only mode of transportation at the moment, costs will rise for shipping.

Churchill Sea Walls mural

A mural adorns Miss Piggy outside of Churchill. Alex De Vries – Magnifico photo.

The delicate relationship between community and environment is something many of the artists are portraying in their murals. And with the current conditions getting worse we need all the extra motivation and inspiration we can get. Happiness through hope can be conveyed through these unique artworks.

“That’s the underlying tension in this town. It’s the drama under all the stories. It’s really about this kind of symbiotic relationship between man and nature here,” he said.

The Sea Walls festival will run through June 26.

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