It’s not every day a century-old dream comes true.
Northwest B.C.’s busy Port of Prince Rupert was envisioned more than 100 years ago, by railway mogul Charles Melville Hays. However, Hay’s dream ended, when he went down with the Titanic, on April 15, 1912. (See this historical article from the Province for more on Hays).
Hays had earlier founded the Port of Prince Rupert on Kaien Island because it was 800 kilometres closer to Asia than other North American ports, and offered opportunities for trade in silk and other commodities of the time. As President of the Grand Trunk Railroad, he was leading construction of a second trans-continental railway across British Columbia that would end at Prince Rupert. While the railway was completed after Melville’s death, the impetus to further develop the port died with its visionary – for the time.
Today, the Port of Prince Rupert, with its five world-class terminals is the deepest natural port in North America, and is ice-free year-round. Its strategic location means that a ship travelling from Prince Rupert to Shanghai, at 20 nautical miles per hour, will get there a day sooner than a ship leaving from any other major port in North America. Exports have nearly doubled to $4.9 billion, since 2009, and last year, coal volumes shipped out rose 16 per cent, over the previous year. Hays may very well have been impressed.
Part of the port’s success is due to its place as a key anchor in Canada’s Pacific Gateway, a network of ports, roads, railways and airports that moves people and goods across B.C. and Canada, and connects to the United States. Work on the Pacific Gateway began in 2005, when representatives from provincial governments, the federal government, ports, airports, rail lines and commercial haulers formed an alliance for infrastructure, regulatory and strategic improvements. The resulting partnerships and improvements have increased business at the Port of Prince Rupert and other transportation hubs, which has added up to a 14 per cent increase in B.C. exports, totalling $32.8 billion, in 2011. Last year, for the first time ever, B.C. exports to the Pacific Rim were greater than south to the United States!
The Port of Prince Rupert and Pacific Gateway are meeting the growing demand in Asia for coal, wood, grain and other commodities. At the same time these transportation systems distribute loads of goods from Asia, to points all over North America. The Port of Prince Rupert also welcomes cruise ship visitors to the spectacular natural beauty that Hays took in when he first visited the site and “stood upon the accumulated muskeg of the ages.”
Hays’ dream of the Port of Prince Rupert has taken shape. Not only is the port moving goods and tourists, it’s contributing to B.C.’s economy and people’s lives far beyond its remote setting.