Thunder Bay

'Remarkable feat': Port of Thunder Bay sees record-breaking grain train in 'strong' shipping season

The global increase in home baking and cooking during the pandemic is making 2020 one of the busiest years yet for the Port of Thunder Bay, and helping it set a record in the process. As of June 30, the port had handled 3.2 million metric tonnes of grain, which is 35 per cent higher than the five-year average.

Thunder Bay port handled the longest Canadian Pacific grain train in history, at 224 cars about 2.5 miles long

The increased demand for wheat during the global COVID-19 pandemic is making the 2020 shipping season one of the busiest yet for the Thunder Bay Port Authority. (Michael Hull/Thunder Bay Port Authority )

The global increase in home baking and cooking during the pandemic is making 2020 one of the busiest years yet for the Port of Thunder Bay, and helping it set a record in the process.

As of June 30, the port had handled 3.2 million metric tonnes (MMT) of grain, which is 35 per cent higher than the five-year average of 2.4 MMT, said Tim Heney, the chief executive officer of the Thunder Bay Port Authority (TBPA).

"We've had a very strong year so far," he said, explaining that as COVID-19 spread around the world, many countries stopped exporting wheat.

Demand for Canadian grains is growing in countries across North Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Europe.

Heney said the port handles a variety of grains but the big seller this year is wheat "and a lot of that is people doing more home baking, as they've done in North America as well, and a lot of our durum wheat goes to Italy for pasta."

Grain train too long to take on the Rockies

As a measure of just how robust the market is, in early June the port accepted the longest single-origin Canadian Pacific grain train in history, when 224 hopper cars – carrying approximately 22,223 metric tons of wheat – were loaded in Antelope, Sask., and then sent east to Thunder Bay.

"It's quite a remarkable feat," said Heney, explaining that traditionally grain trains carry between 10 to 14,000 metric tons and this one carried 22,000, the amount that usually fits on an ocean-going vessel, or salty leaving Thunder Bay.

"We've never seen anything of this size before, and certainly Thunder Bay is the only port in western Canada that you could accommodate something of that length, it's about two-and-a-half miles long, so it can't make it over the Rockies."

Because the TBPA is the western gateway to many eastern markets via the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence Seaway System, Heney said they have also noticed a significant increase in ocean-going cargo ships coming through the port, from 36 at this point last year to 57 by the end of June.

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