People in Churchill believed only weather could defeat them. They were wrong.
CHURCHILL, Man. — Bobby deMeulles sits at his usual perch, next to a window at the Reef coffee shop, keeping an eye on Churchill’s main drag, and beyond that, the town’s old train station and the tracks.
This time of year, railway cars filled with prairie wheat should be rolling past the station for the port of Churchill, 500 metres down the line on Hudson Bay. There are no grain cars today.
There haven’t been any all summer, because Canada’s only deep-water Arctic port — the only port of consequence along 162,000 kilometres of northern coastline — has suspended all grain shipments, a decision made by its Denver-based owner, OmniTRAX Inc. DeMeulles figured something was up, long before the company announced last month it was halting port operations, save for the movement of local freight to small communities further along the Hudson Bay coastline, mostly in Nunavut.
A private transportation company with most of its holdings in American short-line railways, OmniTRAX Inc. claims none of its regular grain suppliers wanted to do business at Churchill this year. “The grain season for 2016 has passed the solutions stage,” it says. Townsfolk wonder if it ever really tried to salvage the season.
DeMeulles understands how things are done in Churchill. He spent 60 years working at the port, receiving grain, cleaning it, running the elevator. He retired just four years ago, when he turned 75. “I worked until I couldn’t work no more,” he says. “I was well looked after.”
But things looked bleak, well before OmniTRAX pulled the plug on the current shipping season.
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