Trucks laden with heating fuel rumble through Manitoba's most northern community during the night.
Workers at the Port of Churchill and the crew of the MV Nunalik are in the midst of a complicated dance as they off-load propane at the northern town and prepare to load up several Via Rail cars and locomotives.
The unusual cargo transfer is a sign to residents of the Hudson Bay community that the rail line from the south is unlikely to be repaired before winter arrives in Manitoba's north.
"It's encouraging that the propane is here, because we are going to stay warm for the winter. The train leaving? It's sad, because I was hoping the rail line would be fixed by now, and it would be going down by the way it's supposed to go down," said Churchill resident Alex de Vries-Magnifico.
The Nunalik sailed into the Hudson Bay port in the early morning and began off-loading supplies for the community, including 2.2 million litres of propane earmarked to keep the town in heating fuel for the winter.
Normally heating and fuel supplies come to Churchill by rail.
A flood in late-May washed out dozens of kilometres of track and the federal and provincial governments have been in a dispute with Denver-based rail line owner Omnitrax ever since over who should pay for the repairs.
The Manitoba government ordered the $6 million propane shipment by sea to make sure the community had heating fuel for the winter.
Via Rail decided to remove its two locomotives and five passenger cars to do maintenance and prevent deterioration of the equipment.
Gasoline and jet fuel are scheduled to arrive in Churchill later this month by two other ships stopping at the northern port.
Negotiations dragging on
The protracted negotiations over who will pay for and repair the damaged rail line has left Churchill residents bruised and angry over the delays.
Some have already departed the town and other face an uncertain future.
"Yeah, I'm scared. I don't know what the future holds for me. I'm watching the town that I know and love die and, you know, I've invested my life in building a business for myself up here," de Vries-Magnifico said,
He moved to Churchill nine years ago and set down roots. He opened a business and works as a guide.
Now, he's watching friends leave and questions whether the federal government has moved swiftly enough — or if the province realizes what an asset Churchill is to Manitoba.
"This impacts everyone's future here. Everyone in town is trying to make decisions, whether they should leave or whether they should stay. Whether the province has done enough? No, I mean this rail line should have been fixed after it got washed out," de Vries-Magnifico said.
Churchill Mayor Mike Spence has virtually conceded the rail line won't be repaired this winter. He is working on efforts to make the winter without a land connection to the south less difficult for the community.
Meanwhile, it is the beginning of polar bear season and though the shops and hotels have a momentary spike in business, residents wonder if the investments they made on the future of the remote, but unique, Manitoba community will show returns in the future.
Spence expects federal Natural Resource Minister Jim Carr to come to the town later this week.