Trains with supplies will finally be coming back to Churchill. Rhonda Reid photo.
The new owners of the Hudson Bay Rail line are set to initiate immediate track repairs according to the Canadian government on Friday. The announcement came following a deal in place for purchase of port and railway by a consortium of buyers. The agreement will open up travel and shipping to the remote northern outpost of Churchill, Manitoba, isolated from the rest of the province since May 2017.
Churchill residents have dwindled in numbers from roughly 1,000 people to 700 – 800 since the washout and subsequent nearly $60 million in damage to the rail line linking Churchill to the south. The trail closure has escalated costs for crucial supplies such as food and fuel, which currently is being shipped in on barges or through air transport.
Arctic Gateway Group Limited Partnership, a private-public partnership that includes Missinippi Rail Limited Partnership, Fairfax Financial Holdings and AGT Limited Partnership have purchased the Port and the Hudson Bay rail line from previous owner Omnitrax Inc from Denver, Colorado.
“We’ll have control in the future, and we’ll work toward prosperity,” said Churchill mayor Mike Spence. “This is historic, I don’t think there’s another model out there in Canada that would fit into this equation.
“This is what we hoped and wished for — we are finally there.”
Jim Carr International Trade Diversification Minister thanked area residents for their patience.
“I want Canadians living in northern Manitoba and Nunavut to know that the Government of Canada understands the importance of the line to their daily lives,” he said in a release on Friday.
The deal was delayed numerous times while Omnitrax claimed it wasn’t able to afford to fix the tracks. After hiring an assessment firm, Omnitrax estimated between $40 million and $60 million in repairs to restore light passenger-rail service and take about two months.
“We are racing against time,” said Fairfax Financial president Paul Rivett in a release. The goal for the new owners is to have the rail line operating prior to winter setting in.
“Phase 1 of the project will be to repair the rail line, undertake safety and rehabilitation upgrades to the port and the railway assets. We will commence the repairs and do all we can to restore service expeditiously and safely.”
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister commended the deal and stated that plans are in place just in case the line cannot be fixed prior to the severe winter sets in.
“We are hopeful the repair of the rail line can occur as soon as possible so that service can be resumed before freeze-up,” he said.
“However, we want to reassure the people of Churchill and the surrounding northern communities that we have already made the financial commitments and logistical arrangements necessary to ensure propane resupply for the winter.”
Whether you liked or disliked Brian Ladoon, the man was a legend and all around character in the sub – Arctic village of Churchill, Manitoba. His viking persona evoked a movie star aura whenever he was spotted around town or out at mile five where he kept his rare Eskimo sled dogs. Brian passed away yesterday in Churchill. He will be missed by so many!
Brian LaDoon. Flickr photo.
Barren – ground grizzly under sedation at the Churchill Polar Bear Holding Facility. Manitoba Conservation photo.
Barren – ground grizzly in the Churchill Polar Bear Holding Facility. Manitoba Conservation photo.
Helicopter lifts the Barren – ground grizzly to its northern release location. Manitoba Conservation photo.
In Churchill, when a bear breaks into a cabin or outbuilding, Polar Bear Alert is called. On July 18, 2018 the call was made and Conservation officers investigated. No bear was located that day however roughly a week later a bear was captured in a culvert trap set by the officers in the area.
July 26th Manitoba Conservation officers approached a trap and realized quickly they had a bear inside. Once they examined the trap more closely they were quite surprised. Instead of the usual polar bear captive, they had trapped a Barren – ground grizzly bear! After spending part of the day in the polar bear holding facility, the animal was airlifted and released near the Manitoba – Nunavut border to the north.
The male grizzly weighed 388 lbs and was equipped with a GPS ear tag and lip tattooed to track its movements. The GPS will transmit over the next four months and researchers will be able to study its migration pattern. Barren – ground grizzlies are Protected under the Endangered Species and Ecosystems Act.
The Port of Churchill still vacant while the sale of the business is in limbo. Katie de Meulles photo.
There are no groundhogs in Churchill! So, there really cannot be a “groundhog” day. However, with the recent announcement of the Port of Churchill and the Hudson Bay Line being sold again there seems to be some confusion.
There apparently is another informal agreement that will reestablish ownership of the Hudson Bay Rail line and the Port of Churchill within the northern Manitoba community and keep the facilities under Canadian control.
One North and Missinippi Rail LP have joined forces with Fairfax Financial Holdings and come to an informal agreement to acquire the dormant assets from current owner Denver, Colorado-based Omnitrax.
Fairfax, a Toronto-based investment company, agreed to partner with One North and Missinippi Rail this past November, to purchase Omnitrax’s northern Manitoba assets.
The arrangement includes the participation of 41 First Nations and non-First Nation communities in northern Manitoba as well as seven Kivalliq communities in western Nunavut, along with Fairfax and AGT, the government said.
Omnitrax owner Pat Broe and Fairfax president Paul Rivett negotiated the acquisition, but there are multiple legal issues to finalize before prior to a finalized deal can be completed.
Churchill mayor and One North co-chair Mike Spence has been waiting a long time for this deal to materialize. Spence has been tirelessly lobbying for a deal since Omnitrax began reducing the frequency of rail service to Churchill nearly two years ago.
However, as we all have seen, this deal will not be official until papers have been signed and money exchanges hands. We have seen far too many deals or rumors of deals taken away with the tide of the Hudson Bay.
“Priority No. 1 will be rail line repairs in the very near future and to finalize the acquisition,” Spence wrote in a statement.
“This is a historic partnership involving Indigenous and northern communities with industry leaders that now positions the Port of Churchill as an Arctic gateway for future prosperity.”
The Hudson Bay rail line to Churchill was washed out by a flood runoff from two late spring blizzards in May 2017. Since then, Omnitrax has refused to repair the tracks and has been in an ongoing battle with the Canadian Government over responsibilities regarding the repairs. Initially, the costs of repairs were between $40 and $60 million. Omnitrax claimed it was unable to cover those high costs.
Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated last year that Omnitrax is responsible for getting the train line up and running again. While this is being settled, at this point most likely through new ownership, the federal government has been providing ongoing subsidies to northern residents to help defray escalating costs of goods shipped north.
Train engine being hoisted onto the cargo ship at the Churchill Port. Katie de Meulles photo.
The Port of Churchill is minus one prospective suitor for possible acquisition. The group, iChurchill and a First Nations consortium led by Glenn Hudson, Peguis First Nations Chief has withdrawn from bidding on the Port and the Hudson Bay Line.
“We are disappointed to have put so much time, effort and money into what would have been a timely solution for the people of Churchill and the economy of Western Canada, but we have apparently run up against politics,” said Louis Dufresne , CEO of iChurchill,
“We finally met last week with the government of Canada’s negotiator on the file, Mr. Wayne Wouters, and he made it clear that the government is willing to deal only with one specific company, a Toronto-based financial firm. We can’t understand why this is, given that our partnership meets all of the government’s stated criteria to support the restoration of rail service to Churchill.”
Churchill’s mayor Mike Spence and town council said iChurchill had previously announced that they were still negotiating with Omnitrax and the Canadian government to try and reach an agreement on the sale.
Now, iChurchill states that the federal government is catering to one exclusive buyer and will only offer financial assistance for track repairs to the Hudson Bay Railway for that group exclusively. Trains have not run to Churchill since last May and it appears that the hopes of starting the repairs this summer are fading again.
“Our team believes that these assets can be operated profitably,” said Dufresne. “My head cares about the commercial interests. But my heart is with the people of Churchill and the First Nations of Northern Manitoba. It’s been a year since a flood washed out their only land link to the rest of the country. I hope they can get their railway back online this year, but without a change in position on the part of the federal government, I’m not optimistic.”
We will have to wait and see what other potential buyers and investors arise in the near future.