The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River have been major North American trade arteries since long before the US or Canada achieved nationhood. Today, this integrated navigation system serves miners, farmers, factory workers and commercial interests from the western prairies to the eastern seaboard.

Virtually every commodity imaginable moves on the Great Lakes Seaway System.Annual commerce on the System exceeds 200 million net tonnes (180 million metric tonnes), and there is still ample room for growth. Some commodities are dominant: v iron ore for the steel industry;

  • coal for power generation and steel production;
  • limestone for construction and steel industries;
  • grain for overseas markets; v general cargo, such as iron and steel products and heavy machinery; and
  • cement, salt and stone aggregates for agriculture and industry.

The primary carrier vessels fall into three main groups: the resident Great Lakes bulk carriers or ‘Lakers’; ocean ships or ‘salties’; and tug-propelled barges. US and Canadian lakers move cargo among Great Lakes ports, with both nations’ laws reserving domestic commerce to their own flag carriers. Salties flying the flags of other nations connect the Lakes with all parts of the world.

To realize the magnitude of this commerce, consider the impact of some typical cargoes:

  • one 1,000ft-long Great Lakes vessel carries enough iron ore to operate a giant steel mill for more than four days;
  • a similar ‘Super Laker’ carries enough coal to power Greater Detroit for one day; and
  • a Seaway-size vessel moves enough wheat to make bread for every resident of NewYork City for nearly a month.
For every tonne of cargo, there are scores — often hundreds  — of human faces behind the scenes. On board, there are the mariners themselves, while shore side there are lock operators and longshoremen, vessel agents and freight forwarders, ship chandlers and shipyard workers, stevedores and terminal operators, Coast Guard personnel and port officials, railroad workers and truck drivers — a wide web of service providers.

Opened to navigation in 1959, the St. Lawrence Seaway part of the system has moved more than 2.5 billion metric tonnes of cargo in 50 years, with an estimated value of more than $375 billion. Almost 25% of this cargo travels to and from overseas ports, especially Europe, South America, the Middle East, and Africa.

From Great Lakes/Seaway ports, a multi-modal transportation network fans out across the continent. More than 40 provincial and interstate highways and nearly 30 rail lines link the 15 major ports of the system and 50 regional ports with consumers, products and industries all over North America.


For more than 200 years, the marine shipping industry has been an integral part of the Great Lakes economy.

The Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River combine to form the longest deep-draught navigation system in the world, extending 3,700 kilometres (2,300 miles) into the North American heartland.The system includes the five Great Lakes and their connecting channels, as well as the St. Lawrence River to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. A series of locks either lift or lower vessels to overcome elevation changes. These include: v seven locks on the Montreal-Lake Ontario (MLO) section of the St. Lawrence Seaway, which lift/lower ships 68.8m (226ft); v eight locks on the Welland Canal (Welland) section of the St.

Lawrence Seaway, which lift/lower ships 99.4m (326ft); and v one lock at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, which lifts/lowers ships 9.2m (30ft).

Three distinct vessel-operator groups serve the waterway. These include American and Canadian domestic carriers transporting cargo between ports within the system, and international ocean-going vessel operators that operate between ports within the system and ports located overseas.

Every year, more than 160mt (million metric tonnes) of raw materials, agricultural commodities and manufactured products are moved on the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System. Dominant cargoes include iron ore for steel production, coal for power generation, limestone and cement for construction, and grain for both domestic consumption and export.

This marine highway supports the activities of more than 100 ports and commercial docks located in each of the eight  Great Lakes states, and the provinces of Ontario and Quebec. It is also a crucial transportation network for commerce moving between North America and more than 59 overseas markets.



Agricultural products

Agricultural products represent about 40% of all Seaway trade. Grain shipped both by the United States and Canada is primarily for export. Cargoes include wheat, corn, soybeans, barley, oats, and flaxseed.

Iron and steel products

Iron and steel products, raw and processed, have been a major cargo for the Seaway since it opened. Products include steel slabs, scrap iron, bars, rods, and manufactured iron and steel. These commodities carry the highest value of goods shipped on the Seaway and their handling is the most labour-intensive.

Mine products

Mine products make up more than 40% to total Seaway trade each year. Products include iron ore, coal, coke, salt, and stone. There is strong demand by European utilities for low-sulphur coal from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana shipped via the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Other processed and manufactured products

In addition to iron and steel products, the Seaway is a cost- competitive route for a number of other processed cargoes. Each year more than 10% of Seaway trade consists of fuel oil, petroleum products, chemicals, forest products, and animal products.

Award-winning Port of Sept-Îles reports on multi-user dock project status 


Having reached the mid-point of its multi-user dock schedule, the Port of Sept-Îles has given Dry Cargo International an update on what is Canada’s largest marine construction site.

With over 95% of project costs now known and incurred, the port is satisfied with the favourable pricing that was obtained. It will now be possible to deliver the project on budget ($220 million) and on time, with construction scheduled to wrap up in late March 2014.

The port is also pleased that work is back in full swing, following a provincial construction strike which caused an eight-day work stoppage.

The project is generating considerable local spinoffs, including:

  • 80 to 90% of the 130 workers currently at the site are local;
  • over $20 million in services and equipment are provided by the following main local suppliers: Construction de lignes électriques N.G.E., Westburne, Nedco, Équipements Nordiques, Construction Tshiuetin, AXOR, and Bouchard & Blanchette Marine.

“We’re also very happy with the proactive support and cooperation of the teams from Pomerleau and Sandvik Canada, which have worked closely with our team to complete construction of the country’s biggest bulk port terminal,” said Port president and CEO Pierre D. Gagnon.


The Port of Sept-Îles received the Special Award for Support to the Reserve Force during a ceremony held at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa on Friday, 7 June 2013.

The Canadian Forces Liaison Council (CFLC) presented the award to port president & CEO Pierre D. Gagnon at its Biennial National Employer Support Award ceremony. The event is held to honour government organizations, companies, and educational institutions, highlighting their support for the Primary Reserve.

Lieutenant-Commander François Lévesque, commanding officer of Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) JOLLIET of the Naval Reserve Division in Sept-Îles (Quebec), nominated the

Port of Sept-Îles for the award. Pierre D. Gagnon, president and CEO of the Port de Sept-Îles, is a strong supporter of the HMCS JOLLIET and the Naval Reserve Division in Sept-Îles. The two organizations have collaborated in the region in an exemplary manner to promote the HMCS JOLLIET.

To highlight the award, a networking activity took place June 12 between the Port of Sept-Îles and the HMCS JOLLIET so employees of the two organizations could get to know each other better and strengthen their bonds.


Boasting a variety of state-of-the-art facilities, the Port of Sept- Îles is the leading iron ore port in North America, with an annual volume of nearly 30 million tonnes. Sept-Îles’ port facilities play a vital and strategic role in the operation of many businesses from the region’s primary sector. The port’s annual economic impact is estimated at nearly $1 billion, with some 4,000 direct and indirect jobs. Through its activity, the Port of Sept-Îles therefore remains a significant source of wealth creation in Quebec and the rest of Canada.

Upsurge of barge traffic on Erie Canal: further growth anticipated

The Historic Erie Canal, which stretches 363 miles from Albany to Buffalo, has been receiving an upsurge in barge traffic in recent years after decades of being used primarily by recreational boats. According to a recent report, the revival in commercial traffic is in large part due to sales of Canadian grain, as well as to the low cost of fuel implicit in use of the canal compared to other transportation modes.

The canal officially opened in 1825 with some of New York’s largest cities growing up along it. Freight passing through the 500 miles of waterways and locks peaked at five million tonnes. But the level dropped significantly when the interstate highway system and competing St. Lawrence Seaway to the north opened up. Commercial shipping slowed to just 10,000 tonnes a year, and recreational boats became the dominant users of the canal, as is still the case today. In 2012, however, the canal saw a four- fold increase in average freight transit. Projections for 2013 are for more than 100,000 tonnes to be shipped through the waterway.

The growth in commercial traffic is due to the rising cost of diesel fuel. Using one gallon of fuel, canal barges can carry a short tonne of cargo 514 miles; a train can haul it 202 miles, less than half the distance; and a truck only 59 miles. Canal barges can carry loads of up to 3,000 short tonnes. They can also transport objects that would be too large for road or rail shipment. Erie Canal Corporation Director Brian Stratton said that as more crops arrive from Canada because of changes in trade law, the canal just happens to be in the right place again.

This system is still here. So it is an opportunity really to go back to what made this state great, and to use a tremendous infrastructure that 189 years later is still going strong, he said.

The Erie Canal is a canal in New York that runs about 363 miles (584 km) from Albany, New York, on the Hudson River to Buffalo, New York, at Lake Erie, completing a navigable water route from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes. The canal contains 36 locks and encompasses a total elevation differential of approximately 565 ft. (169 m). First proposed in 1807, it was under construction from 1817 to 1825 and officially opened on 26 October 1825.

It was the first transportation system between the eastern seaboard (New York City) and the western interior (Great Lakes) of the United States that did not require portage, was faster than carts pulled by animals, and cut transport costs by about 95%.

The canal fostered a population surge in western New York State, opened regions farther west to settlement, and helped NewYorkCitybecomethechiefUSport. Itwasenlarged between 1834 and 1862. In 1918, the enlarged canal was replaced by the larger New York State Barge Canal.

Today, it is part of the New York State Canal System. In 2000 the United States Congress designated the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor to recognize the national significance of the canal system as the most successful and influential human-built waterway and one of the most important works of civil engineering and construction in North America. 

US grain dominates cargo shipments

Despite a month where cargo totals see-sawed between positive and negative territory, US grain shipments have made a decisive comeback, posting a nearly 50% jump from the same time last year. “US grain continues to rebound strongly from last season’s disappointing performance with a 46% rise in tonnage, while several shipments within the Liquid Bulk category posted healthy jumps as the Seaway navigation season approaches midpoint,” said Rebecca Spruill, Director of Trade Development, for the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation.

According to a news release issued in mid-July, year-to- date total cargo shipments for the period March 22 to June 30 were 12mt (million metric tonnes), down 11.6% over the same period in 2012.

Iron ore and coal, usually solid performers, were both down by 15% and 9% respectively due to lower steel production. Total general cargo was down 14% to 616,000 metric tonnes. The liquid bulk category posted a 2.6% year- to-date increase to 1.4mt. The dry bulk category was down 19% to 2.7mt. Within that category, however, scrap metal and pig iron posted upturns of 5% and 6% respectively.

While many cargo shipments showed a dip to the south, project cargoes were welcomed at the Port of Milwaukee and the Duluth Seaway Port Authority. Additionally, there remains optimism on the project cargo front with oil sands projects picking up in the autumn. “Heavy mining equipment is an excellent example of the unusual and oversized cargo the Port of Milwaukee can handle,” Interim Port Director Paul Vornholt said. “Recently, a mine owner needed to ship a huge Joy Global P&H shovel to the west coast of Mexico. After looking at all the options, the shipper chose to send the cargo by water through both the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Panama Canal. Our port is supporting both local manufacturing and international trade by facilitating the movement of complex cargo.”

“The Port of Duluth looks forward to welcoming four heavy-lift shipments of transformers from Germany,” said Adolph Ojard, executive director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, owner of the breakbulk terminal where 16 units will be discharged from Hansa Heavy Lift vessels this shipping season. All transformers will eventually be delivered to Canadian destinations via new 16-axle railcars.

“Crews at our terminal operator — Lake Superior Warehousing — have earned a global reputation for expert handling of dimensional and heavy-lift cargoes. Coupled with the supply chain efficiencies and backhaul opportunities offered by the Great Lakes-Seaway system, customers are increasingly utilizing this bi-national marine highway to move huge components like these in and out of North America’s heartland.” 
Coal shipments via The Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway System 

For years, many different types of commodities have transited via the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway System. These cargoes are either imported or exported to/from one of the numerous Canadian or US marine terminals which make up this unique shipping corridor.

Among these commodities, millions of tonnes of coal are shipped within the Great Lakes every year for power generation and steel production. Because of recent US domestic market trends in the coal industry, coal has finally seen its way through the GLSL Seaway System being exported to Europe.

With volumes starting at approximately 600,000 metric tonnes two years ago, this programme has now grown to 1.5mt (million metric tonnes) of coal travelling from Powder River Basin, transiting through the Port of Quebec going to Europe. This shipping lane has proven very successful and now has room for expansion estimated at slightly over 5mt per year.

As many players have contributed to the success of this export route out to Europe, let us briefly look into this logistical movement:


The BNSF safely and reliably carries the coal from Powder River Basin in unit trains to the Midwest Energy Resources (MERC) Terminal in Superior Wisconsin.

The coal is received by rotary dumper, transferred to stockpiles and loaded onto laker type vessels.

The coal is then transported via both self-unloader type  vessels or gearless bulker type vessels to the Port of Quebec. The coal is unloaded and accumulated at the Port of Quebec

and then reloaded onto Panamax and Capesize vessels.

Distance and transit time to the Port of Québec Via the Northern Corridor (Seaway System) Superior (Wisconsin) 5.5 days by Laker 1,307 miles

Port of Québec distance and transit time to Europe and Asia Rotterdam 9 days 3,000 miles

ABOUT ST. LAWRENCE STEVEDORING St. Lawrence Stevedoring (SLS), a division of Quebec Stevedoring Company Ltd, has been operating since 1908. SLS is located in the Port of Québec, the deepest water port leading to the St. Lawrence Seaway and Great Lakes System accommodating

vessels drawing up to 15 metres. As such, it is the transloading terminal in/out for oceangoing vessels (Handymax, Panamax and Capesize Vessels) and Laker type vessels (Canada Steamship and Algoma).


  • SLS is one of the largest ‘dual purpose’ transloading terminals on North America’s Eastern Seaboard;
  • the terminal has a water depth of 15 metres at low tide with an average 5 metre tide;
  • SLS can accommodate all size vessels: Handymax, Panamax and Capesize vessels;
  • the main commodities that transit through the terminal are iron ore, coal, scrap metal, copper and nickel concentrates, alumina, gypsum, salt, raw sugar and alloys;
  • SLS receives and ships bulk products from all over the world, and has the expertise to handle products of all kinds; and
  • SLS regularly handles over 20 different kind of cargoes totalling more than 12.5mt per year.