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Agriculture This Week: The northern rail line gets new dollars

Recent funding brings Willis Richford of Norquay and his efforts with the Hudson Bay Route Association to mind.
train stock shock july 2022
A rail line north has long held out hope for a cheaper way to get grain to ocean water.

YORKTON - The Hudson Bay Railway has long been a route to ocean water which has been of interest to northeast Saskatchewan grain growers.

It is after all the shortest route to open water, at least for a short summer season, and that holds the potential to cost producers less.

When you have been a journalist in Yorkton for more than 30 years, and have covered agriculture all those years, the potential of the route north is not lost on you, especially if you ever met Willis Richford of Norquay before he died in 2005.

Richford and the rail line north were near synonymous for decades, as he was, for more than 60 years, a member, director, president and subsequently Honourary Life member of the Hudson Bay Route Association. 

Richford worked tirelessly and was about as passionate as one can be about something, in his case advocating for greater use of the Port of Churchill and the Hudson Bay Route. 

In the times we spoke it was evident he was a true believer in the potential – which he felt was unrealized – on the railway, and the port.   

A large mural proclaims Norquay as the 'Home of Mr. Churchill Willis Richford' as does a medallion produced by the Norquay Chamber of Commerce in 2000. 

I found myself reflecting on Richford when I read the Hudson Bay Railway will receive $133 million in new funding to upgrade and maintain the rail line which runs from The Pas, Man., to Churchill, Man.

The federal government will provide $60 million, on top of its existing support, and the Manitoba government is contributing $73.8 million to the project. The two levels of government made the announcement in Winnipeg Aug. 3.

It is support Richford would have wholeheartedly supported, although it is likely he might suggest it was overdue funding too.

The funding is for two years and will go to the Arctic Gateway Group, a partnership between First Nations and northern communities. Arctic Gateway owns the railway, the Port of Churchill, the Churchill Marine Tank Farm and other assets.

“The Hudson Bay Railway is an engine for economic development, job growth and tourism opportunities, and our government is proud to support this vital transportation network,” Manitoba premier Heather Stefanson said in a recent article.

It is a great statement, but frankly one various politicians have echoed in one form, or another for decades, but in the end the suggested potential never seems to quite be achieved.

The latest injection of cash is clearly about economic growth in Northern Manitoba and not about grain going north to open water, that element of the port likely a footnote of Prairie history related to unfulfilled potential, but the money does leave the route north with a pulse.

Richford would hope it is a step to more, but we will see if that happens.


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