Marine and ports

Although Alberta is physically land-locked, the national highway and railway systems connect it to many of the country's major ports. These ports are vital links in Canada's transportation system and are essential to international trade and commerce.

Canada’s 18 Port Authorities handle more than half of all Canadian marine cargo, approximately 310 million tonnes annually, valued at more than $400 billion. For more information about port authorities, visit the Association of Canadian Port Authorities.

An additional 200 million tonnes of cargo are handled by a regional ports system consisting of several hundred ports from the Atlantic to the Pacific to the Arctic.

Major Commercial Ports

There are nearly 600 public ports in Canada, with approximately 70% located in the eastern half of the country. Most of Canadian ports are relatively small. These are some of Canada's major ports:

British Columbia


Nova Scotia

The Port of Vancouver is the country's largest in terms of tonnage handled. It is the main terminal for goods moving between Canada and other Pacific Rim countries. The more northerly Port of Prince Rupert is a west coast alternate to Vancouver. It also boasts the shortest sailing distance between North America and Asia.

In addition to Vancouver and Prince Rupert, the eastern ports of Montreal and Halifax are central to the country's trade activity with Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

Great Lakes/ St. Lawrence Seaway System

In addition to Canada's ports, the Great Lakes / St. Lawrence Seaway System plays an important role in both domestic and international marine transportation. The seaway was opened in 1959, and is under the joint responsibility of the Canadian and United States governments. Its 15 locks permit ships to travel between points on the Great Lakes and the Port of Montreal. Although closed during the winter months, the seaway handles approximately 50 million tonnes of grain, iron ore, steel, coal and other bulk commodities each year. The majority of this traffic moves in domestic service between a variety of points on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border.

Port Operations

Canadian ports are operated either by federal, provincial, municipal or private authorities. These authorities administer the waterfront property owned by the port. They effectively lease these properties to private firms who provide the facilities and services associated with the loading and unloading marine vessels.

Container Terminals

The ports of Vancouver, Montreal and Halifax have all developed impressive container handling terminals. These are in addition to the various terminal facilities already devoted to moving bulk commodities such as grain, coal and sulphur.

Over the past 40 years, containerization has revolutionized the international transportation of manufactured products. The ease with which containers of standardized size can readily be transferred between ships, trains and trucks has led to significant improvements in economic efficiency.

Steamship lines and railways have exploited these gains by developing large-scale container ships and dedicated double-stack container train services. These structural changes have heightened competition and helped reduce international freight rates.

Marine Shipping

Ships are the primary means of transporting goods between Canada and countries beyond North America. Containerized cargo is transported by rail and then by container ship to the many destinations in our global marketplace. They provide Alberta shippers with scheduled marine transportation between Canada's major ports and every continent of the world.

The following carriers operate ships with carrying capacities exceeding 5,000 containers:


Canada's liner trade is almost evenly divided between conference and non-conference liners.

Conference liners collectively serve a common trade route with standard rate and service conditions. There are 19 conferences providing service to or from Canadian ports. Carriers without a conference affiliation operate as non-conference liners, or independents. Bulk commodity movement is more common at west coast ports because of the western province's resource-based economies.

Bulk carriers providing service to Canada include:

Canadian Merchant Marine

Canada has a relatively small inland merchant marine fleet, with less than 200 self-propelled vessels of 1,000 gross tonnes or more. Approximately seventy-five percent of this fleet's carrying capacity is used to move dry bulk commodities. Another 20 percent is used to move bulk liquids.

The west coast merchant marine fleet consists primarily of domestic tug and barge operations, although it also provides service between Canadian and American ports. The largest firms are Seaspan International and SMIT Harbour Towage.

Most of these vessels move domestic cargoes within the Great Lakes / St. Lawrence Seaway System and the Maritimes.

Inland Waterways

The Northern Transportation Company uses the Mackenzie River System to operate a tug and barge service to supply remote communities in Canada's arctic. It also provides services for the transportation of heavy equipment and oil and gas exploration equipment and supplies, including fuels, to the western arctic and Alaska.