Doornekamp Lines looks to capitalize on ‘underutilized’ marine corridor with Picton-Halifax shipping line

Picton Terminals
The Picton Terminals

A family-owned eastern Ontario shipping firm is expanding its service along the St. Lawrence Seaway, looking to compete against rail and truck operators for customers moving cargo between Canada’s east coast and markets across Ontario.

Doornekamp Lines announced plans for scheduled marine shipping service this spring, moving containers and bulk cargo between Halifax and Picton, located west of Kingston. The shipping operation is a spinoff of Doornekamp Construction, which refurbished the Picton Terminals in 2015.

The Picton-Halifax service is targetting a range of products originating from around the world including steel from the United Kingdom, bauxite and gypsum from Newfoundland and Turkey, sugar from Brazil, as well as farming and steel products.

“Anything you could possibly move on water, we’re moving it,” said Ben Doornekamp, owner of Doornekamp Construction and Picton Terminals, adding that he expects the shipping lane to reduce transportation costs for businesses as well as cut greenhouse gas emissions.

‘Aggressive’ fleet expansion planned

Bethlehem Steel built the Picton Terminals in 1953 to ship iron ore to the United States. Since the ore shipments ceased in 1978, several companies have used the site to ship bulk items such as salt, gypsum and coal.  

Believing that Lake Ontario’s marine market was underutilized, Doornekamp Construction purchased the Picton Terminals site in 2014 for approximately $5 million after eyeing it for nearly a decade. Doornekamp Construction redeveloped the port by refurbishing existing ship loading conveyor systems, renovating existing buildings and retrofitting the port to store up to 2,300 containers. They also purchased an LHM 420 Mobile Harbour Crane to efficiently and safely handle bulk cargoes.

Picton Terminals
The Picton Terminals in winter

Learning the ins and outs of the shipping world has been a challenge for Doornekamp Construction, a relative newcomer to the industry. Doornekamp, who has a background as a civil and structural engineer, said the company had to modify its plans for Picton Terminals more than 15 times.

“It's been a great learning exchange and we've been very flexible to adapt to market changes. Our learning curve has basically been a vertical line, which is always fun,” he said.

In the last two years, Doornekamp Lines has shipped $30 million worth of goods with its fleet, which consists of two container ships, two tug boats and half a dozen barges. Doornekamp said the company intends to “aggressively” expand its fleet to capitalize on new shipping opportunities.

Later in 2021, Doornekamp Lines intends to expand its operations to include service between several Great Lakes destinations, including Oswego, N.Y., Cleveland, Windsor, Chicago, Duluth, Minn. and Thunder Bay.

Boost for local economy

Shelley Hirstwood, director of business development at Kingston Economic Development Corp., said Doornekamp Lines is providing a boost to the area’s economy.

She said the new shipping service opens up logistics corridors both for existing businesses in eastern Ontario, as well as the potential to attract new companies.

Traditionally, most shipping in the area was done through transport trucks or rail lines going to larger terminals in Montreal or Toronto, which are “extremely busy and take a lot of time.” Hirstwood said the new Picton shipping line cuts down on time and gives more opportunities for economies of scale. 

Hirstwood said the area around Kingston is already enticing to new companies, being located between major urban centres and on Highway 401.

“But being able to add a water highway and have that direct shipping option is certainly very attractive to new companies. It gives us that logistic and strategic advantage.”