Yesterday, the three-day Arctic Gateway Summit kicked off at the University of Winnipeg. Hosted by the Manitoba Government and the university, the summit has brought together 200 Canadian and international transportation experts to discuss turning Manitoba and Nunavut into an Arctic trade hub. The conference “will include a focus on sustainable communities, increasing international trade through the Arctic and economic development opportunities for northern communities and Indigenous peoples.”

In 2007, Canada created the “National Policy Framework for Strategic Gateways and Trade Corridors,” designed to promote strategies that improve the transportation networks that are the lifeblood of Canadian trade. Canada already has three geographically-specific gateway policy plans in action: the Asia-Pacific Gateway, the Ontario-Quebec Continental Gateway, and the Atlantic Gateway. The Arctic Gateway could become the fourth.

On the first day of the Arctic Gateway Summit, Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger and Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU), in which the two provinces agreed to begin undertaking a cost-benefit study of an all-weather road connecting Gillam, Manitoba and Nunavut.

As reported by CBC News, Selinger said,

“One of the problems of climate change is that winter roads just don’t last as long anymore…So some communities get cut off from the goods and services they need. If we’re going to develop the economy, we need the proper infrastructure and a road is a key part of that.”

Cracking, melting ice roads are a threat not only to small communities dependent on them to receive supplies, but also mining companies and other major industries in northern Canada vital to the country’s exports. When ice roads fail, residents and businesses are forced to fly in necessary supplies, an expensive and inefficient last resort.

If built, the all-weather road would likely start in Gillam, Manitoba and cut through Churchill, which many hope to turn into a major deep-water Arctic port. Then, the road would curve north along the coast of the Hudson Bay, passing through the towns of Arviat, Whale Cove and Rankin Inlet in Nunavut. The 2007 Nunavut-Manitoba Selection Study suggested several possible routes for such a road while concluding that the “Eastern Route” passing through the above towns would be the best option. A map of the possible routes is available here (PDF). The light blue and yellow lines form the Eastern Route. Building the road would not be easy: engineers would have to contend with ice, lakes, rocky coastlines, and permafrost, to name a few of the elements of the High North. A 40-page presentation on the topic put out by the same researchers sheds more light on all-weather road building in Canada (PDF).

The road could even be linked to CentrePort Canada, the country’s CAN $212 million endeavor to turn Winnipeg, Manitoba – the geographic center of North America – into a major inland port. Air routes over the North Pole to Europe and Asia would be time-competitive with flights from Canada’s coasts. Money is also being poured related projects, such as the rehabilitation of the Hudson Railroad linking the town of The Pas, Manitoba with the Port of Churchill.

Summit leaders hope not only to turn Manitoba into an “Arctic Gateway,” but to also reshape Canadian Arctic policy so that the development of a gateway lies at the heart of policy-making in the High North. For Manitoba and the surrounding areas to meet the criteria of a gateway, they would have to demonstrate the following attributes:

  1. Alignment with Canada’s international commercial strategy,
  2. Significant volumes and trade value,
  3. Prospects in emerging trade and transportation opportunities,
  4. Scope for improvement through strategic investment, and
  5. Role for federal government involvement.

More information defining “gateways” can be found in a document entitled “Canada’s Arctic Gateway: Discussion Paper Summary” (PDF).

Though it will reportedly take 20 years for the transportation networks to come together, if the all-weather road is built, Churchill truly becomes an important Arctic port, and cross-polar air routes from Winnipeg really take off, that will be a strong foundation for an Arctic Gateway linking North America, Europe, and Asia.


Manitoba and Nunavut: Arctic gateway of the future

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