Aerial view of the Hamilton-Oshawa Airport Authority
Boats Heading

For this network of Ontario ports, the aim is to better serve its customer base with innovative marine shipping solutions.


Given that one-sixth of the province is covered in water, it may be no surprise to learn that one of Ontario’s great geographical assets is its waterways. The Hamilton-Oshawa Port Authority, or HOPA as it is affectionately known, is an important part of that system, as one of 17 port authorities in Canada. “We’re arm’s length from the government as a government business enterprise,” says Larissa Fenn, director of public affairs. “We’re completely self-sustaining, but we operate under a mandate established by Transport Canada to support Canadian business, to help get products to market, and to facilitate trade. Basically, it’s our job to develop ports as engines of prosperity in the communities that host them.”

The ports of Hamilton and Oshawa were separate entities up until just a few years ago. The two were amalgamated in 2019, and the organization has also taken on both ownership and management of space in Niagara. This means that HOPA is now responsible for an integrated port network on the Great Lakes. “Tying these maritime assets together means that we can better serve the greater Golden Horseshoe area,” says Fenn. “This area has long been Canada’s manufacturing heartland, so being able to support the supply chains here is a big part of what we do.” HOPA is currently focused on the movement of goods in conjunction with the population growth of the area and the increasing gridlock on surface transportation routes. “We’re tapping into data to better understand how goods are moving in southern Ontario now, and where Ontario’s marine capacity can alleviate some of the pressure,” says Fenn. “Goods movement data has been a bit of a black box up until this point, but we’re excited to create innovative solutions using the marine mode to help address Ontario’s congestion problem.”

The Port of Hamilton, included as part of the Hamilton Habour Commission created in 1912, grew up alongside the two big steel companies in the city — Stelco and Dofasco. Its original purpose was to service the steel industry, but the cargo requirements of the region have since diversified, and the port’s infrastructure has had to change in response. “We’ve seen about $350 million in investment in the Port of Hamilton over the past decade. About $200 million of that has been in the agri-food sector,” says Fenn. “That’s really where we’ve seen the balancing out as the steel sector has changed.” Fenn touches on exports like Ontario-grown wheat, soybeans, and corn, as well as imports like fertilizer to serve local farmers. “In short, we’ve seen the supply chain in Hamilton grow into a much more value-added system supporting the Ontario food processing and food production sector,” says Fenn.

The environment is top of mind at both ports. “We’re working on how to make marine shipping even greener,” says Dunn.

As the other bookend of the GTHA market, the Port of Oshawa is a smaller operation that functioned independently before becoming the other title port of HOPA. “There is explosive growth headed east of Toronto, as well as lots of organic growth in Durham Region,” says Jeremy Dunn, commercial vice-president. “It made a lot of sense to integrate the ports to serve a greater base, and we were uniquely positioned to take on Oshawa because we have a model that really attracts investments.” The Port of Oshawa does have some significant infrastructure gaps but now benefits from all of the resources and expertise of the larger Hamilton port. Since the amalgamation, about $25 million in improvements have been earmarked at the Port of Oshawa. Nearly 60 percent of that investment will be made to better serve grain growers in the area. “We’re predicting that grain production is going to expand very quickly, and we need to be able to get grain to market,” says Dunn. “The grain farmers want local marine shipping solutions, and we need sufficient infrastructure around the port to help.” HOPA will be also looking to improve the efficiency of loading and unloading at the port, improve the environmental performance and make facility changes with future commodities in mind.

The environment is top of mind at both ports. “We’re working on how to make marine shipping even greener,” says Dunn. “Last year, we fuelled a ship with liquefied natural gas rather than traditional bunker fuel — it was the first time that was done on the Great Lakes. We’re looking to expand that capacity even further. That’s a step in the right direction.” Dunn also touches on the fact that HOPA is more than just a port authority. It’s a stake in a transport system: “Our job is to facilitate a multi-modal network, to move goods inefficient ways on many fronts. We want to be a part of the solution, and we’re excited about the opportunities to come.”

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