Some are calling Ontario's latest salt shortage unprecedented

Ontario homeowners and contractors are struggling with what some call an unprecedented province-wide shortage of salt, leaving them with few options as another encore of freezing rain bears down on a large swathe of the province.

Homeowners, retailers and contractors are struggling to find cheap and reliable supplies

As another icy round of freezing rain descends over a large swathe of Ontario, homeowners and private contractors are struggling to find a reliably cheap supply of salt amid what some call an unprecedented province-wide shortage. (David Bell/CBC)

Ontario homeowners and contractors are struggling with what some are calling an unprecedented province-wide shortage of salt, leaving them with few options as an icy encore of freezing rain bears down a large swathe of Southern Ontario.

An incoming storm from Colorado is expected to bring another wintry blast of snow and freezing rain to large area of Ontario, stretching from Windsor to Cornwall, with an area in the middle, stretching from London to Tobermory and Durham to Niagara, expected to be the hardest hit.   

The guys are down there working their butts off, as fast as we can get it to surface, it's gone.- Gary Lynch, president of Unifor Local 16-0

The storm is moving in while salt supplies are meagre, thanks to a combination of last year's severe winter weather, a 12-week strike at the Goderich, Ont. salt mine and ongoing flooding at an American salt mine beneath Lake Erie in Cleveland, Ohio.

"Having a three-month hiatus hasn't really helped the situation," said Gary Lynch, the president of Unifor Local 16-0, the union that represents workers at the Goderich mine. 

'Working their butts off' 

Salt reserves in Ontario are depleted after a 12-week strike at the Goderich salt mine, seen here last summer. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

"We can produce a lot of salt in three months," he said, noting the strike has depleted reserves, which would have been mined and stockpiled over the course of last year's labour dispute.

Since then, Lynch said the mine has been operating 24/7 with most miners working 12-hour shifts to churn out up to 300 tractor trailers worth of salt a day. 

"The guys are down there working their butts off, as fast as we can get it to surface, it's gone," he said. "We don't have any stock." 

The company that owns the mine, Compass Minerals, said last summer's strike "had very little impact" on production and while it has had supply challenges this winter, it insists they are only short-term. 

"Our inventory levels are typical for this time of year and we continue to ship packaged salt from production to warehouse sites daily," spokeswoman Tara Hefner wrote. 

What shipments are arriving at retail stores are selling out quickly, according to Tammy Dagenais, an assistant manager at a Windsor Home Hardware. 

"We just received a shipment, so [customers are] scooping it up maybe two or three bags at a time," she said. 

Even Municipalities are running low

Salt supplies are so low in the Waterloo area, the regional government has stopped salting residential back roads in favour of sand so it can guarantee enough salt for main roads and bus routes. (Robert F. Bukaty/AP)

While some stores have stock, there have been reports of stores in the London and Waterloo regions turning customers away because of empty shelves. 

Government contracts take priority for salt miners, such as Compass Minerals, in the Great Lakes basin, but even some municipalities have indicated their supply is low. 

The municipality of Waterloo Region issued a statement Wednesday saying "salt stores are currently very low, due to difficulty in obtaining adequate volume from our supplier."

The supply is so low in that area, the cities of Kitchener, Cambridge and Waterloo are using sand instead of salt on residential back roads in order to guarantee an adequate salt supply for main roads and bus routes. 

Complaints about slippery roads have more than doubled in Kitchener to 340 this year, compared to 168 last year. 

Private contractors look further afield

The dearth of locally available salt has forced many private contractors to look further afield to places such as Morocco or Egypt where prices are higher.

"The salt price went up 50 per cent," said Dennis Leonhardt, the owner of London Snowplow and Landscape, who called the situation unprecedented. "Last year, I was paying $96 a tonne and this year I'm paying $145."

Leonhardt said what makes the situation unprecedented is the fact this is the first time he's ever had to requisition salt from a foreign country, saying supplies are scarce not only in Ontario, but also most of the eastern United States. 

"My supplier doesn't expect it to become a whole lot better," he said. "This may become the new norm." 

Leonhardt said he believes once prices spike like they have this winter, it will be almost impossible for them to return to the levels they were even a year ago. 

"Maybe it will go down to $120," he said. "I don't see it going back down to what it used to be." 


Colin Butler


Colin Butler covers the environment, real estate, justice as well as urban and rural affairs for CBC News in London, Ont. He is a veteran journalist with 20 years' experience in print, radio and television in seven Canadian cities. You can email him at