The Port of Churchill and the rail line running to it has moved to 100 per cent local community and Indigenous ownership.

AGT Food and Ingredients and Fairfax Financial have “transitioned” their 50 per cent stake in the Arctic Gateway Group to OneNorth, a consortium of community and Indigenous partners, according to a news release distributed by the Town of Churchill on behalf of the OneNorth communities on March 11.

Financial terms of the transaction have not been disclosed.

The Arctic Gateway Group — a 50/50 partnership between AGT/Fairfax and OneNorth — has owned and operated the port, the Hudson Bay Rail line, and the Churchill tank farm since buying it from Omnitrax in a deal supported by the federal government in 2018.

“We are very proud of all that we have accomplished over the past two and a half years with our partner, OneNorth. The long-term economic and social impact of this critical national infrastructure corridor will provide benefits to Canadians for generations. We are grateful to the amazing communities in Northern Manitoba and look forward to watching the continued success of Arctic Gateway. We are proud we were a part of this nation-building project,” says Murad Al-Katib, president and CEO of AGT.

The port and rail line were idle prior to Arctic Gateway acquiring it, as Omnitrax refused to invest the tens of millions of dollars needed to fix damage to the track from flooding in the spring of 2017. The amount of grain shipped through the port had also dwindled to zero in 2016 following the end of the Canadian Wheat Board’s single desk in 2012 (the CWB was previously the main user of the port, with annual export volumes often exceeding 400 thousand tonnes).

OneNorth notes passenger and freight rail service, as well as port services for both imports and exports, were restored over the last two years. Upgrades were also made to critical health and safety aspects of the port, the group says, in addition to the decommissioning of the former fuel tank farm and installation of new tanks.

Grain exports through the port resumed in 2019, as 103 thousand tonnes of durum wheat and around 35 thousand tonnes of lentils were shipped through Churchill in the 2019-20 crop year, according to Canadian Grain Commission figures. Nearly 96 thousand tonnes of durum moved through the port during this last shipping season.

“A tremendous amount of hard work has seen northern communities reach this critical milestone,” says Town of Churchill Mayor and OneNorth co-chair Mike Spence. “Together with our partners we are taking the next important steps to realize our vision for a national arctic trade corridor.”

Approximately 70 per cent of Arctic Gateway’s workforce is Indigenous, according to OneNorth.

“Our communities are ready to step up,”says Christian Sinclair, Opaskwayak Cree Nation Onekanew and OneNorth co-chair. “We have a multi-generational socioeconomic development vision that will take this work forward as a truly northern Canadian success story.”

OneNorth says AGT will continue to provide management services during the transition and that it intends to negotiate a terminal handling agreement to continue exporting crops through the port.

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