Churchill residents finally held the party they’ve been awaiting for more than a year Nov. 1, when the Northern Manitoba town celebrated the first train to roll into town since flooding suspended service on the Hudson Bay Railway (HBR) in June 2017.
The train arrived in the Hudson Bay port town Oct. 31, exactly two months after a deal for former owners OmniTrax to sell the rail line and port to the Arctic Gateway group was announced.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was in Churchill to announce nearly $4 million of economic development funding for projects and organizations in Northern Manitoba, said that regular passenger and freight rail service is expected to resume by the end of November.
“I know that things haven’t been easy for the past year and a half for the members of the community. You all know too well the kind of far-reaching consequences this has had on your community,” said Trudeau, whose Liberal government committed $117 million for the purchase and repair of the HBR as well as the Churchill marine tank farm and the Port of Churchill, which were also owned by OmniTrax since 1997. “Our government was determined to restore land access to Churchill. We know that nobody is more vested in the future of this rail and this port than the people who live here. The rail line is now partly owned by the community. This has been a model of community empowerment and economic development for others to follow.”
Trudeau also praised the efforts of the Arctic Gateway group to restore rail access.
“They were more than up to the task,” said Trudeau, adding that the people of Churchill had seen firsthand the effects of climate change. He said Manitobans would be receiving an average of $339 per year for a family of four to help them cope with the costs of Canada beginning to tax carbon emissions in 2019. Remote communities like Churchill will receive a 10 per cent top-up to this climate action incentive.
“Everybody knows the challenges our community’s faced lately but our community was resilient,” said Churchill Mayor Michael Spence. “We knew that once we got through this we would be positioned for a greater future, not just for us but for Canada’s north. The infrastructure was not just built for Churchill, it was built for Canada, it was built for Canada’s North, let’s not forget that. We would not be here today without the strong support of the government of Canada. They have a bigger picture vision of Canada’s North. The prime minister called me over a year ago and made a commitment to our community. Your government has delivered.”
The deal to acquire the railway and port, which involves private companies, Churchill and First nations as partners, was also praised by Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas, who first began trying to acquire HBR and the port from OmniTrax when he was chief of Mathias Colomb Cree Nation.
“It is the people of the north who have come together historically to provide for ourselves and this is another example of how our commitment our tenacity and our refusal to accept no provides for success,” Dumas said. “It is through the sheer will of the people of the north coming together in such a positive way that has allowed us to be here today.”
Arctic Gateway CEO Murad Al-Katib said crews had repaired 29 washouts in 30 days in order to enable a train to travel to Churchill and that he believed this would be the start of a brighter future.
“We believe through this investment we can, along with our partners … generate substantial economic prosperity for the Arctic region and Canada by building export and import activity through Canada and North America’s only rail-linked deep sea Arctic port, the Arctic Gateway,” he said. “The rail line and the port have been dramatically under-utilized by the previous owners.”
The federal government also announced $3.8 million in economic development for projects and organizations in Northern Manitoba through the Churchill Regional Economic Development fund.
“We’re looking forward to continuing to utilize the fund to help the dreams of local entrepreneurs become a reality, and to help them capitalize on the opportunities that will arise as Churchill’s access to the world is expanded through Arctic Gateway,” said Community Futures Manitoba and Community Future Saskatchewan executive director Jason Denbow.
Approved projects from the CRED fund to date total more than $4.6 million and include mould and asbestos removal and heavy equipment operator training in Churchill, as well as about $300,000 for the Boreal Discovery Centre sturgeon habitat and planned Wolf Centre of Excellence in Thompson.