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Canadian Ports on the Northwest Passage

(by Karl Magnus Eger)


In contrast to the NEP/NSR, there are very few ports along the NWP. There are essentially no adequate deep-water ports along the northern slope of Alaska or throughout the NWP. The lack of major ports and port facilities is also one considerable limiting factor in terms of increased shipping on the NWP. Furthermore, there are several obstacles related to trans-Arctic shipping in the near future (i.e. ice conditions, refuge, seasonality, geographical complexity, draft restrictions, choke points, insurance limitations and other costs) (see chapters 1 and 4). However, most Arctic shipping scenarios indicate an increase in the years ahead, but the shipping will be destination-Arctic and intra-Arctic and mostly resource based. These expectations are also related to a not significant, but nonetheless increasing Arctic population and an increasing demand for consumer goods, community construction and industrial shipments. Based on these expectation it will require significant port improvements.

Port Developments on the Northwest Passage

Nunavut (see Figure 5.10) is a region with a lot of opportunities but equally sizeable challenges. The natural resource potential is particularly important. Gold, diamonds, iron ore, uranium, rare earths, natural gas and oil are all present. However, most of these resources are land-locked in regions where transportation presents major physical and economic difficulties. Nunavut has no permanent road or rail links to the south or between communities and there is no deep sea port. Moreover, shipping is seasonal with most communities receiving normally two re-supply calls a year. Air transportation also has constraints, with quality in many communities inadequate for jet service. Of relevance to shipping, it has initiated a community port programme that is financially supported by both the federal and provincial governments1 .

Recently there have also been announced plans to build a deep-water port in Iqaluit. It will consist of a new single berth in the form of a 77 m long caisson placed at the 11 m depth mark and a new bridge that would connect the port facility to the mainland2 . This port could be a main gateway to the NWP from the east.

There are also plans to build a new deep-water port in Nanisivik. The existing port already has basic docking platforms and a fuel tank storage facility. Used by the occasional cruise ship and CCG vessels, the port is near Lancaster Sound, the eastern entrance to the NWP. Construction is planned to begin in 2010, with an end date of 20153 .

In addition, there is several resource driven on-going projects. Over the next 20 years, destination exports shipping will most likely include Port at the Mary River Iron Ore located at Baffin Island, which expects to produce annually 12.6 million tonnes of direct shipping iron ore per and operate for at least 25 years4 . European steel mills will be the primary destination for the ore. The project and its infrastructure will also provide a foundation for potential future production increases after 2014.

Other on-going development projects are:

  • Port at Steensby Inlet at the Foxe Basin (possible operative within 2010);
  • Roche Bay magnetite port, near Igloolik at the Foxe Basin (possible operative within 2015) and;
  • Lake lead/zinc/copper concentrates shipping from either Gray’s Bay or Bathurst Inlet (possible operative within 2015).

Destination import shipping will include logistics and fuel for the primary resource operations noted above as well as barge mounted production modules for the Mackenzie pipeline; and delivery of production modules to the Alberta Oil Sands5 .

Figure 5.10: Ongoing Projects in the NWP


The port of Churchill is currently the only port that can be characterized as a “Canadian Arctic Seaport7 ”. However, the Port of Churchill has not yet grown into any viable transportation link. As a result there are not much of economic activities in the community1 . The population has been declining in recent years. The combination of port activity, some tourism, and Government support should sustain the population that has remained. Nonetheless, the Port is a vital link in the trans-shipment of petroleum products and goods of all kinds to the communities of Nunavut. Vessel operators now provide scheduled service to the Nunavut region each season, providing reliable supply of goods to communities in the Kivalliq region8 .

Previously, there have been discussions regarding the development of the “Churchill-Murmansk route”, Arctic Bridge, as an alternative to shipping through the St Lawrence Seaway. It could shorten shipping time by some four days1 . However, for this proposal to move forward, Churchill would require significant additional port and rail investments. The proposal is reportedly being studied at present by both Canada and Russia. Costs, cargoes and volume have not been determined.


  •  1. CASA (2007), Canadian Arctic Shipping Assessment, By The Mainport Group Ltd. for Transport Canada, June 2007
  •  2. Canadian Defence Policy, Foreign Policy and Canadian-US Relations: http://www.casr.ca/id-iqaluitport2.htm
  •  3. http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2007/08/10/port-north.html
  •  4. Baffin Land: www.baffinland.com
  •  5. AMSA (2008), Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment, Report Draft, 14 November 2008
  •  6. See Appendix 5.19 for detailed information about Churchill Port.
  •  7. Interviews/Conversations: Canadian Coast Guard 14 January (2010)
  •  8. Port of Churchill: http://www.portofchurchill.ca/
  •  9. Canadian Coast Guard: www.ccg-gcc.gc.ca

Karl Magnus Eger, 2010, Canadian Ports on the Northwest Passage, CHNL.©

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