The 12 Largest Ports in Canada

Written by Alan Lemus
Updated: July 21, 2023
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Canada’s ports play a key role in global trade, serving as gateways that connect this massive country to the rest of the world. Imagine starting your day with a fresh cup of coffee, texting on your phone, or driving your car to work. These routine activities link us all to a vast network of trade, with ports at its center.

Stretching from the Pacific to the Atlantic and reaching up to the Arctic, these ports show off Canada’s geographical diversity and its extensive maritime reach. Each port, with every ship that docks and departs, facilitates the movement of goods that Canadians rely on while also enabling Canadian products to reach markets across the globe.

In this article, we delve into the unique characteristics, key industries, infrastructure, and economic impacts of the 12 largest ports in Canada, by cargo handling capacity. Prepare for an intriguing exploration of Canada’s maritime core!

The Port of Vancouver is Canada’s largest port in terms of yearly cargo.

1. Port of Vancouver (162 Million Tons)

Port of Vancouver

Port of Vancouver handles over 162 million tons of cargo annually.

©Ymblanter / CC BY-SA 4.0 – License

Bustling with activity, the Port of Vancouver stands as Canada’s largest and busiest port. Nestled in the heart of British Columbia, this gateway not only plays a pivotal role in Canada’s economy but also serves as a crucial link in global supply chains.

Geographical Location

Immersed in the grandeur of the Pacific Northwest, the Port of Vancouver spans an impressive 224 miles of shoreline. In addition, it boasts proximity to major railways and highways, offering easy access to the heartland of North America. Moreover, its strategic location on the west coast provides an efficient connection to the Asian markets.

Facilities and Infrastructure

The Port of Vancouver houses an impressive array of facilities. It consists of 27 main marine cargo terminals as well as three Class 1 railroads. Its container terminals stand as a testament to its modern infrastructure, which is adept at handling a high volume of goods. Also, with an astounding capacity, the port facilitates the seamless movement of goods daily.

Noteworthy Statistics

In sheer numbers, the Port of Vancouver’s story is compelling. Annually, it handles over 162 million tons (147 million metric tons) of cargo. The port welcomes over 3000 vessels each year, further underscoring its status as a bustling hive of maritime activity.

2. Port of Montreal (45 Million Tons)

Port of Montreal

The Port of Montreal handles over 45 million tons of cargo per year.

©André Chivinski from Sherbrooke (Québec), Canada, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons – License

Serving as the heartbeat of Canada’s eastern seaboard, the Port of Montreal is a vital hub of maritime activity. Occupying a strategic location along the Saint Lawrence River, this bustling port stands as an essential conduit for transatlantic trade.

Geographical Location

Positioned in Quebec, the second most populous province in Canada, the Port of Montreal enjoys a location that marries accessibility with convenience. Its placement along the Saint Lawrence River ensures a direct shipping route to the North Atlantic, connecting Canada to the markets of Europe and the East Coast of the United States.

Facilities and Infrastructure

As for facilities, the Port of Montreal impresses with its diverse and modern infrastructure. It has five container terminals and multiple grain and liquid bulk terminals. Furthermore, it offers direct access to two railway networks and the highway, making cargo transportation smooth and efficient.

Noteworthy Statistics

The Port of Montreal’s credentials are reflected in its annual activity. It handles over 45 million tons (40.5 million metric tons) of cargo. With over 2,700 vessel calls annually, the Port of Montreal affirms its status as an active and essential player in global maritime commerce.

3. Port of Sept-Iles (35 Million Tons)

Port of Sept-Iles

The Port of Sept-Iles handles over 35 million tons of cargo annually.

©Marieeveduguay / CC BY-SA 4.0 – License

Situated on the North Shore of the St. Lawrence River, the Port of Sept-Iles reigns as the largest port in Quebec in terms of tonnage. As the gateway to the Labrador Trough, the hub of Canada’s iron ore industry, this bustling port facilitates vital international trade.

Geographical Location

The Port of Sept-Iles benefits from a strategic position in eastern Quebec. It boasts a deep-water port that can accommodate large vessels, offering a direct and efficient shipping route to Europe, Asia, and other major global markets.

Facilities and Infrastructure

Equipped with top-tier facilities, the Port of Sept-Iles is designed to handle substantial cargo volumes. It features multiple dry bulk terminals and storage facilities, coupled with an infrastructure that guarantees efficient movement and storage of goods.

Noteworthy Statistics

The Port of Sept-Iles boasts compelling statistics. It handles over 35 million tons (32 million metric tons) of cargo annually, representing an assortment of goods valued at billions of dollars. With hundreds of vessel calls each year, the Port of Sept-Iles solidifies its place as a titan of maritime commerce in Quebec.

4. Port of Prince Rupert (33 Million Tons)

Port of Prince Rupert

The Port of Prince Rupert moves over 33 million tons (29.84 million metric tons) of cargo annually.

©Ramón Cutanda López / CC BY 2.0 – License

Crowned as the gateway to the Pacific Northwest, the Port of Prince Rupert is a testament to Canada’s vibrant maritime scene. Tucked away in northern British Columbia, it shines as a key connection point between Asia and North America.

Geographical Location

The Port of Prince Rupert commands an enviable location. Perched on the westernmost tip of North America’s continental rail network, it’s the closest North American port to Asia by up to three days of sailing. Its deep, ice-free harbor further cements its appeal.

Facilities and Infrastructure

With a suite of cutting-edge facilities, the Port of Prince Rupert is well-equipped to handle diverse cargo. The port boasts a container terminal, a grain terminal, a bulk terminal, and breakbulk terminals. Its unique selling proposition is its ability to handle large vessels due to its naturally deep harbor.

Noteworthy Statistics

Every year, the Port of Prince Rupert moves over 33 million tons (29.84 million metric tons) of cargo. It hosts approximately 500 vessels annually, affirming its vital role in the maritime trade industry.

5. Port of Quebec City (30.42 Million Tons)

Port of Quebec City

The Port of Quebec City handles over 30.42 million tons (27.6 million metric tons) of cargo annually.

©Andrijko Z. / CC BY-SA 3.0 – License

The Port of Quebec City, a historic and strategic maritime hub, sits on the majestic St. Lawrence River’s banks. As the oldest port in Canada, it carries a rich history while serving as a crucial link in modern global trade.

Geographical Location

Strategically located in Quebec, Canada’s second most populous province, the Port of Quebec City benefits from deep-water access. Its position along the St. Lawrence River provides a direct shipping route to the Atlantic, seamlessly connecting the heartland of North America to international markets.

Facilities and Infrastructure

The Port of Quebec City boasts a wide range of facilities. It features multiple bulks, liquid bulk, and breakbulk terminals. The port’s extensive infrastructure supports efficient cargo handling, enabling the smooth transportation of goods to their final destinations.

Noteworthy Statistics

Impressive numbers underline the Port of Quebec City’s key role in maritime commerce. It handles over 30.42 million tons (27.6 million metric tons) of cargo annually. With hundreds of vessel calls every year, the Port of Quebec City reinforces its importance in the maritime trade industry.

6. Port of Saint John (30.26 Million Tons)

Port of Saint John

The Port of Saint John moves over 30.26 million tons of cargo each year.

©Michel Rathwell from Cornwall, Canada / CC BY 2.0 – License

The Port of Saint John, commanding a strategic position on Canada’s Atlantic coast, is a crucial juncture in the global supply chain. Set in New Brunswick, this busy port is an important part of the province’s vibrant maritime identity.

Geographical Location

Perched on the shores of the Bay of Fundy, the Port of Saint John benefits from a strategic position. This location offers an efficient shipping route to Europe, the Caribbean, and the U.S. Eastern seaboard, linking Canada to key international markets.

Facilities and Infrastructure

The Port of Saint John is home to state-of-the-art facilities that cater to diverse cargo types. It has large modern containers, bulk, and breakbulk terminals. Its facilities ensure the efficient handling of cargo, and its connections to rail and highway networks streamline the movement of goods.

Noteworthy Statistics

The statistics reflect the Port of Saint John’s standing as a key player in maritime trade. Each year, it moves over 30.26 million tons (27.45 million metric tons) of cargo. With close to 900 vessel calls each year, the Port of Saint John stands as an active hub in the maritime trade network.

7. Port of Thunder Bay (11.24 Million Tons)

The waterfront in Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Each year, the Port of Thunder Bay handles over 11.24 million tons of cargo.

©Giorgio Galeotti / CC BY 4.0 – License

The Port of Thunder Bay, proudly standing as the westernmost port in the St. Lawrence Seaway, serves as an essential anchor for the Great Lakes region. Situated on the north shore of Lake Superior, it fuels the economic lifeblood of the region.

Geographical Location

The Port of Thunder Bay holds a strategic position in Ontario, offering a direct link to the heart of the continent. This location provides an efficient shipping route to the Great Lakes region and beyond, connecting the Canadian Prairies to global markets.

Facilities and Infrastructure

The Port of Thunder Bay has versatile facilities. It boasts multiple grain elevators and various bulk and breakbulk terminals. These facilities are designed to handle a wide variety of cargo types, ensuring the efficient movement of goods.

Noteworthy Statistics

The numbers tell the story of the Port of Thunder Bay’s standing in the maritime sector. Each year, it handles over 11.24 million tons (10.2 million metric tons) of cargo. With hundreds of vessel calls each year, the Port of Thunder Bay demonstrates its crucial role in the maritime trade network.

8. Port of Hamilton (10.9 Million Tons)

Boats at Port of Hamilton

The Port of Hamilton moves more than 10.9 million tons of cargo per year.

©Robert Linsdell / CC BY 2.0 – License

A central figure in Canada’s industrial heartland, the Port of Hamilton, stands as the country’s busiest Great Lakes port. Tucked away in the Golden Horseshoe region of Ontario, this busy port is a cornerstone of the province’s vibrant maritime activities.

Geographical Location

Ideally positioned at the western tip of Lake Ontario, the Port of Hamilton enjoys strategic access to the St. Lawrence Seaway, linking the port to the Great Lakes region and beyond. Its location close to major industrial and commercial regions makes it a natural transportation hub.

Facilities and Infrastructure

The Port of Hamilton houses an impressive collection of facilities. It features various bulk and breakbulk terminals, along with warehouse and storage facilities. Its well-developed infrastructure caters to diverse cargo types, supporting efficient movement and storage of goods.

Noteworthy Statistics

The Port of Hamilton handles some impressive figures. Each year, it manages the movement of more than 10.9 million tons (9.9 million metric tons) of cargo. Additionally, with hundreds of vessel calls each year, the Port of Hamilton affirms its vital role in the maritime industry.

9. Port of Nanaimo (5.8 Million Tons)

Nanaimo Harbor

The Port of Nanaimo handles over 5.8 million tons of cargo each year.

©galina75 / CC BY 2.0 – License

Located on the east coast of Vancouver Island, the Port of Nanaimo is a vital part of British Columbia’s maritime infrastructure. Known for its multi-purpose facilities, this vibrant port connects Canada’s west coast to the Pacific Rim and beyond.

Geographical Location

The Port of Nanaimo enjoys a strategic position in the mid-island region. Its location offers excellent access to major Pacific markets, ensuring efficient trade links with Asia, the Americas, and the rest of the world.

Facilities and Infrastructure

The Port of Nanaimo boasts a diverse suite of facilities. It has bulk and breakbulk terminals, storage facilities, and connections to major highway networks. Because of this, the robust infrastructure ensures the smooth transit of goods, making it an attractive option for many businesses.

Noteworthy Statistics

The Port of Nanaimo handles impressive cargo volumes each year. It moves over 5.8 million tons (about 5.3 million metric tons) of cargo. With numerous vessel calls each year, the Port of Nanaimo is a key player in the Pacific maritime industry.

10. Port of Windsor (5.5 Million Tons)

Downtown Detroit from Windsor Ontario

The Port of Windsor handles over 5.5 million tons of cargo each year.

©Ken Lund from Reno, Nevada, USA / CC BY-SA 2.0 – License

Located at the heart of the Great Lakes region, the Port of Windsor stands as Canada’s southernmost port. Nestled on the Detroit River‘s banks, this dynamic port connects Canada to the United States and the broader international shipping network.

Geographical Location

The Port of Windsor benefits from a great position in Ontario, sitting directly across from Detroit, Michigan. Because of this, it enjoys excellent access to major North American industrial and commercial centers, offering an efficient shipping route via the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Facilities and Infrastructure

Equipped with various facilities, the Port of Windsor is primed to handle diverse cargo types. It has multiple bulk and breakbulk terminals, storage facilities, and connections to major rail and highway networks, ensuring the smooth transit of goods.

Noteworthy Statistics

The Port of Windsor sees impressive movement each year. It handles over 5.5 million tons (about 5 million metric tons) of cargo. With hundreds of vessel calls each year, the Port of Windsor solidifies its position in the Great Lakes region’s maritime commerce.

11. Port of Halifax (5 Million Tons)

M/V Ocearch shark research vessel in the port of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada on September 18, 2018.

Each year the Port of Halifax handles over 5 million tons of cargo.

©Coastal Elite from Halifax, Canada / CC BY-SA 2.0 – License

Nestled on Canada’s east coast, the Port of Halifax brims with maritime charm and economic importance. It serves as Canada’s Atlantic Gateway and plays a crucial role in the nation’s international trade network.

Geographical Location

Located in Nova Scotia, the Port of Halifax boasts a great position on the Great Circle Route between Western Europe and the East Coast of North America. Additionally, its natural, deep, and ice-free harbor makes it an appealing destination for shipping lines.

Facilities and Infrastructure

The Port of Halifax has modern and diversified facilities to handle varied cargo types. It has two container terminals and multiple bulk and breakbulk terminals. Without a doubt, its infrastructure supports the fast, efficient movement of goods to and from various parts of the world.

Noteworthy Statistics

The Port of Halifax boasts impressive figures. Each year, it handles over 5 million tons (about 4.5 million metric tons) of cargo. With about 1,500 vessel calls each year, the Port of Halifax stands as an active player in global maritime commerce.

12. Port of Toronto (2.4 Million Tons)

Port of Toronto

The Port of Toronto handles over 2.4 million tons of cargo per year.

©Reidgreg / CC BY-SA 4.0 – License

Anchoring itself firmly in Canada’s commercial capital, the Port of Toronto serves as a vibrant hub of maritime activity. Undoubtedly, this bustling port, nestled on the northwest shore of Lake Ontario, contributes substantially to the city’s bustling trade environment.

Geographical Location

The Port of Toronto holds a great position in the heart of Canada’s largest city. Especially because it’s located on the Great Lakes navigation system, giving direct access to the St. Lawrence Seaway and major industrial and commercial regions.

Facilities and Infrastructure

The Port of Toronto is home to diverse facilities designed to handle a range of cargo types. It hosts multiple bulk and breakbulk terminals and warehousing facilities. Additionally, its extensive infrastructure ensures efficient processing and delivery of goods, making it an attractive option for businesses.

Noteworthy Statistics

The Port of Toronto boasts some impressive figures. It handles over 2.4 million tons (about 2.1 million metric tons) of cargo per year. With hundreds of vessel calls each year, the Port of Toronto shows its importance to the city and the region’s maritime commerce.

Key Takeaways

Our journey through the 12 largest ports in Canada by cargo handling capacity comes to an end. We’ve navigated across a vast maritime network that both unifies Canada and connects it to the global community.

Each port we’ve visited stands as a vital economic powerhouse, fostering regional and national prosperity. Despite their roles, diverse cargoes, and unique strengths, all these ports share a common function: to keep Canada connected, trade moving, and our daily lives working well.

Summary of the 12 Largest Ports in Canada

RankPortCargo per Year
1Port of Vancouver162 Million Tons
2Port of Montreal45 Million Tons
3Port of Sept-Iles35 Million Tons
4Port of Prince Rupert33 Million Tons
5Port of Quebec City30.42 Million Tons
6Port of Saint John30.26 Million Tons
7Port of Thunder Bay11.24 Million Tons
8Port of Hamilton10.9 Million Tons
9Port of Nanaimo5.8 Million Tons
10Port of Windsor5.5 Million Tons
11Port of Halifax5 Million Tons
12Port of Toronto2.4 Million Tons

The photo featured at the top of this post is © TRphotos/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Alan is a freelance writer and an avid traveler. He specializes in travel content. When he visits home he enjoys spending time with his family Rottie, Opie.

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