In port geography, one of the most dramatic consequences of the recent rise of the Asia-Pacific region has been the shift of the centre of gravity of North American container port traffics from the Atlantic to the Pacific seaboard. The San Pedro Bay ports (Los Angeles and Long Beach) are nowadays the largest US container port complex, whereas Vancouver and Manzanillo are the largest in Canada and Mexico, respectively. This is reflecting globalisation and its early stages have already been documented in the late 20th century by several authors ; focussing upon Canada, this study confirms this trend with a longer time perspective including the more recent regional evolutions (1980-2020).
A series of maps will show the gradual westward migration of the centre of gravity of Canadian port traffics.This regional shift is partly reflecting the growing demographic and economic share of the Western provinces, but another factor is also behind this new port geography: as in the US, the two large Canadian railway systems have invested heavily into intermodalism. Their two parallel transcontinental lines are carrying nowadays most of the Canadian Eastern provinces’ container imports or exports from or to Asia. Moreover, CN and CP trains from and to the West coast carry also a significant volume of transit cargoes to and from the US Middle West.
As a result, the Pacific ports handled 68 % of Canada’s container ports traffics in 2020, against 43 % in 2000 and just 17 % in 1980. Vancouver became the largest national player (with a share of 51 % in 2020), but a regional challenger has recently emerged with Prince Rupert (17 %). Taking into account its expansion plans, this new Pacific gateway might even overtake soon Montreal (23 %) for the national second rank. On the Atlantic seaboard, this port has gradually eclipsed the Maritime provinces’ ports (Halifax and Saint-John, handling collectively the remaining 9%) thanks to its excellent intermodal connections to the US Middle West.
Keywords: Canadian ports|Globalisation|Container traffics|Going West