The Port of Churchill has been a symbol of uncertainty in Churchill. Katie de Meulles photo.
A Manitoba First Nations group has formed a partnership with an independent company to establish the reopening of the rail line to Churchill and potential operation of the grain port in Churchill.
Heard that before? Well, this time we might be in for the real thing.
A recent press release confirms that a consortium of Manitoba First Nations, led by Peguis First Nation Chief Glenn Hudson, will partner with iChurchill Inc., a private Canadian company, entering into an acquisition agreement with Denver-based Omnitrax, to take over control of the Port of Churchill and the Hudson Bay Railway.
“The port has got all of the grain handling equipment and simply said, the first thing we want to do is resume that commercial activity,” said Louis Dufresne, president of iChurchill Inc., in a phone interview Friday.
Northern residents of the town of Churchill along with Indigenous leaders say the railway and port are crucial to the existence of towns and all First Nations in northern Manitoba.
Last May, a year ago, the Hudson Bay rail line owned by Denver-based Omnitrax sustained flood damage from the spring melt of two late-season blizzards. The damage was estimated at nearly $60 million and Omnitrax balked at its contract to repair the damage and therefore reopen the train line to Churchill. Soon after, a native group under the name Missinippi Rail LP, a consortium of about 15 Manitoba First Nations, signed an informal agreement to purchase the port and rail line for $20 million. Further strengthening their offer and position, the group enhanced their buying power by joining with One North, a group representing First Nations and communities served by the Hudson Bay line.
Photo by Major MacLachlan (www.zambonista.com/hbr/) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
With that deal seemingly dormant and not gaining any momentum, this new one is being praised by Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister.
“Hopeful always when I hear these announcements, but of course like the people of Churchill, I just really would like to see the rail line rebuilt and the port reopened with solid commitments with whoever is going to take charge of the ownership that they are committed for the longer term.”
Now, iChurchill Inc. is hoping to formalize and seal the agreement by mid-June in order to commence repairs and reopen the line in time for the fall polar bear season. These details have not been confirmed by Omnitrax as of yet,
Communities have been suffering for a year now with increased costs of transporting goods to the outlying towns in the north. The isolation has touched everyone’s lives in every community. With another end of this dilemma in sight, people have been given hope once again.
iChurchill Inc. is expected to release more information today regarding plans for repairing the rail line and potential reopening of the port at a Winnipeg press conference.
Any new agreement would need approval from the federal government. Federal Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr is expected to release a statement Friday.
Hudson Bay Quest musher off at the start. This year’s Quest is cancelled as a result of the recent blizzard! Brad Josephs photo.
Race organizers have made the decision to cancel the 2017 Hudson Bay Quest dogsled race due to the recent blizzard that buried the Churchill and Gillam regions this past week. The race was scheduled to depart Gillam this Friday, St. Patrick’s Day, and finish in Churchill.
Unsafe conditions are the main reasons for deciding to scrap the race this year as deep packed and drifting snow have blanketed the course and inhibited train service from Thompson to Churchill while track sections are being cleared. The train transports supplies as well as mushers and their dog teams to the race and serves as a lifeline to the south.
Just recently the Town of Churchill declared a State of Emergency, allocating resources toward snow removal and dealing with the aftermath of a storm that necessitated the Churchill community businesses to shut down for three full days last week. The race will be missed for sure, however the safety of the mushing teams and all support staff out on the trail between Gillam and Churchill is of prime importance.
Here is the official statement from the HBQ organizing committee: “While many sled dog races have cancelled due to lack of snow, we have wiped the smug looks off our faces now that we ultimately have too much snow. The Organizing Committee for the 2017 HBQ wishes everyone a safe and productive year as we navigate through this experience, and begin our planning for the 2018 Hudson Bay Quest.”
We look forward to the 2018 Hudson Bay Quest, back even stronger than before!
Port of Churchill grain shipping operation on the Churchill River. Port of Churchill photo.
A northern delegation comprised of representatives from the Town of Churchill and The Pas, City of Thompson, Hudson Bay Route Association, and the War Lake First Nation have met with provincial and federal governments to try to sort out the recent Port of Churchill closure by american based owner Omnitrax. The company closed the port and issued two – week lay – off notices on July 25th of this year.
No grain has been shipped through the Port of Churchill prior to the shut – down in what Churchill Mayor Spence has characterized a “bumper -crop year”. The “unforseen” circumstances that Omnitrax is siting as reason for closure have still not been disclosed by the company that purchased the facility in 1993 from the Government of Canada which was at the time divesting itself from numerous crown corporations. The current closure affects nearly 200 paid positions all along the Bayline.
Speaking for the northern delegation, Mayor Spence stated “this is an emergency situation for our community, our region and indeed our country. We’ve been told by farmers that there is a bumper crop and as an export country we can’t be shutting down ports if we are able to keep people employed and grow our economy”.
The delegation is in agreement that the Government of Canada at national and regional levels should take responsibility to insure that the Port of Churchill is of national interest. In this light all involved feel the Port of Churchill needs to be reopened and continue to function as a part of Canada’s national infrastructure. This new delegation has pledged to continue to diligently work with the branches of government to find a long term solution for keeping the port operations running.
Michael Constant, Chief of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation, reinforced the message by Mayor Mike Spence of Churchill stating “we have all come together to find a workable long term solution and we are prepared to advance a northern regional ownership model that we feel is the best approach going forward”.
Last December a group of Manitoba First Nations purportedly was in the process of finalizing an agreement to purchase the Port of Churchill though that news has simmered somewhat as no definitive sale has been finalized.
Nearly two feet of snow has fallen in Churchill and it was still coming down at the time of this report. Whiteout conditions and cold temperatures – -11 C- have prompted the Town of Churchill to shut down operations and advise people to stay inside. The polar bear capital of the world is not foreign to such occurrences with this kind of storm causing havoc at least once or twice throughout the winter. Things should be up and running tomorrow according to the forecast.
PUBLIC NOTICE -Closure Due to Adverse Weather- March 14, 2016
Due to the limited visibility and heavy snow fall the Town of Churchill will be shutting down operations this afternoon for the safety of staff and residents. Should you require any emergency assistance please contact our on call operators at 204-675-0108
All programming is cancelled within the Town Centre Complex and will resume as scheduled tomorrow. We are asking all residents to stay inside and stay safe!
Whiteout conditions in Churchill today. Mark Reynolds photo.
Nearly two feet of snow has fallen in Churchill today. Katie de Meulles photo.