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Throwback: Five decades of coal through Delta

Westshore is Canada’s busiest coal export terminal, handling more than 33 million tonnes of coal annually, but it also plans to handle potash from Saskatchewan
westshore terminals 1969
A 1969 photograph of a bucket wheel reclaimer operating at the Roberts Bank coal terminal during its construction.

Delta’s coal port officially opened at Roberts Bank on June 15, 1970.

It was an exciting time as thousands attended the ceremony including special guests Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and B.C Social Credit Premier W.A.C Bennett.

The 55-acre bulk loading facility, referred to as the Roberts Bank superport, had an estimated cost of $9 million.

Operated by Westshore Terminals, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Kaiser Resources, the port was one of the largest deep sea facilities in the world.

The first clanging, whistling trainload carrying a load of coal had arrived at Westshore Terminals two months earlier, carrying a shipment from Sparwood, B.C. destined for Japan.

Accepting the coal, the first ship to sail out of the port was named Snow White.

Mayor Dugald Morrison was on hand for the grand opening, calling it a great day for Deltans.

“The additional industries and employment resulting could change the whole face of Delta. We have a very bright future,” Morrison said.

The Delta Optimist reported that despite water spraying, a large cloud of dust arose when coal was dumped from the first rail car, forcing spectators to stand aside.

Commenting on concerns about pollution, Morrison said “We will be watching it very closely.”

Five decades later, Westshore Terminals, now controlled by the Jim Pattison Group, continues to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and remains the largest dry bulk terminal on the west coast of the Americas.

In 1980, senior governments signed a $50 million pact to expand the coal port.

A year earlier, an expansion proposal had been quashed due to environmental concerns, prompting a revised proposal designed to minimize environmental impacts.

Westshore a few years ago also undertook a $275 million facility upgrade within the existing footprint.

The facility now ships steel making (metallurgical) and energy (thermal) coal to over 20 countries worldwide.

It handles coal from mines in B.C., Alberta as well the north western United States.

It currently handles 33 million tonnes of coal annually.

Westshore this summer announced it reached an agreement with BHP Canada Inc., a subsidiary of BHP Group, to provide port services to BHP’s proposed Jansen Potash Mine in Saskatchewan.

Westshore is designing and will construct the infrastructure to handle the potash, including a potash dumper, storage building and associated conveying systems.

In addition, certain existing infrastructure at Westshore’s terminal will be modified to support handling the product.

BHP will substantially fund the construction, with Westshore responsible for construction costs in excess of the agreed budget. 

Westshore says it will also contribute up to an aggregate $33 million to costs related to specific infrastructure or unexpected permitting conditions.