May 31, 2020

25° C, Partly cloudy

Full Forecast

Winnipeg Free Press


Help us deliver reliable news during this pandemic.

We are working tirelessly to bring you trusted information about COVID-19. Support our efforts by subscribing today.

No Thanks Subscribe

Already a subscriber?

Finally, it's all aboard for Churchill


Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/12/2018 (544 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The town of Churchill, which has been living on hope for a year and a half since spring floods cut the rail line, today has much more solid prospects. The rail line and the port have new owners who are bringing those assets back to life.

The Churchill-bound passenger train that left Winnipeg Sunday afternoon was the surest sign yet that those owners know what they are about. Residents and businesses in Churchill who were wondering whether they should abandon hope and look for a new home can now see that the town’s lifeline to the outside world is in good hands.

A woman buys a ticket for the first train to Churchill in 18 months Sunday, December 2, 2018.


A woman buys a ticket for the first train to Churchill in 18 months Sunday, December 2, 2018.

It’s still a long and vulnerable lifeline, difficult to keep open at the best of times. It crosses boggy ground. The roadbed needs constant shoring up. The winters are harsh and the thaws can leave the line uneven.

The line’s economic foundations, too, have proven precarious in the past. While the Canadian Wheat Board was sending grain shipments out through the port, there was that much commercial revenue to finance the costs of the rail line. On account of the short Hudson Bay ocean shipping season, users for the port cannot be lined up without constant, focused attention — beyond what the former owners, Denver-based Omnitrax, could apply.

The owners now are Arctic Gateway Group, a consortium of users and venture capitalists organized at the instigation of the federal government for the purpose of buying the port and the rail line. The consortium includes Toronto-based Fairfax Financial Holdings and Regina-based pulse processor AGT Foods, together with towns and Indigenous communities served by the rail line.

All Canadians can rejoice that the country once again has a deep–water port facing north.

Since none of these owners has ever run a railway, there was room to wonder what success they would have running one of Canada’s longest and most challenging lines. But they did carry out the necessary construction work so that a test run of locomotives rolled into Churchill at the end of October, just two months after the work started.

Scheduled service by Via Rail resumed Sunday when a train left Winnipeg for the 2½-day trip to Churchill. This came as a huge relief to Churchill residents. All Manitobans can rejoice with them because a solution has been found.

All Canadians can rejoice that the country once again has a deep-water port facing north. For the two centuries when the Hudson’s Bay Company colonized Western and Northern Canada, York Factory and Churchill were the link between Europe and the Canadian heartland. The transcontinental railway, built when federal Canada was formed, put the Hudson Bay route in the shade. Manitoba governments, however, saw the value in keeping that route open in competition with the route through the St. Lawrence River. Manitoba built that rail line while the rest of Canada saw no point and paid no heed.

Churchill’s belugas, its polar bears, its northern lights and its historic sites are great tourist attractions. The train ride itself is part of the Churchill experience for those who like trains. The service is also vital for businesses that cannot afford air freight costs for all their merchandise. It is vital, also, for residents who cannot afford to fly south every time they leave town.

The reopening of the rail service to Churchill makes all the difference between a functioning town and a fly-in outpost.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.

Your support has enabled us to provide free access to stories about COVID-19 because we believe everyone deserves trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

Our readership has contributed additional funding to give Free Press online subscriptions to those that can’t afford one in these extraordinary times — giving new readers the opportunity to see beyond the headlines and connect with other stories about their community.

To those who have made donations, thank you.

To those able to give and share our journalism with others, please Pay it Forward.

The Free Press has shared COVID-19 stories free of charge because we believe everyone deserves access to trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

While we stand by this decision, it has undoubtedly affected our bottom line.

After nearly 150 years of reporting on our city, we don’t want to stop any time soon. With your support, we’ll be able to forge ahead with our journalistic mission.

If you believe in an independent, transparent, and democratic press, please consider subscribing today.

We understand that some readers cannot afford a subscription during these difficult times and invite them to apply for a free digital subscription through our Pay it Forward program.

The Free Press would like to thank our readers for their patience while comments were not available on our site. We're continuing to work with our commenting software provider on issues with the platform. In the meantime, if you're not able to see comments after logging in to our site, please try refreshing the page.

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.