Usually, when Captain Andriy Yavorsky and his men dock their ship at the edge of a city, they’re a $50 one-way cab ride away from anything interesting. But “now it’s just wonderful,” the Ukrainian commander says, kissing his fingers. That’s because, for another hour or two, Yavorsky is in Toronto. His ship, the M/S Puffin, carried 21,000 tonnes of raw sugar from Santos, Brazil, to Redpath Sugar’s refinery at the foot of Jarvis Street, spitting distance from downtown. The trip took three weeks, and the unloading, three days—enough time for the crew to head up the CN Tower. “We love this port,” says Yavorsky. “When I notice it’s our next destination, I said, ‘Ooh, good.’”
When Redpath opened on Queens Quay East in 1959, it was surrounded by manufacturers with names like Eaton Chemical & Dyestuff Co. and the dock offices of shipping companies like Newfoundland Great Lakes Steamship Ltd. There’s now something closer to a neighbourhood there, with a nightclub (the Guvernment, opened in 1996), big-box grocery store (Loblaws, opened in 1998), beach (Sugar Beach, 2010), office building (Corus Quay, 2010), park (Sherbourne Common, 2010), college campus (George Brown, 2012), and condo building (Pier 27, opening soon).
“For many years, this was a dying industrial port,” says Redpath’s British-raised CEO, Jonathan Bamberger. “Redpath was able to quietly get on with its business and ignore the city and be ignored in the city. We’re now in a position where we can neither be ignored nor ignore what’s going on around us.”
The Puffin should, in theory, be tough to ignore: At just under 200 metres from bow to stern, it’s a good deal longer than Brazil’s biggest skyscraper, São Paulo’s Mirante do Vale, is tall. Every year, though, 150 or so massive cargo ships just like it glide into the docks, slips, and berths in the Port Lands or along Queens Quay East. Hiding tonnes of cement, salt, asphalt, stone, steel pipe, fibre-optic cable, and glass windows in their bellies, they go largely unnoticed.
That should change as more and more people move closer to the waterfront—but it doesn’t mean the ships will stop coming. There’s no more efficient method, explains Bamberger: Redpath’s 30 annual sugar shiploads would amount to 16,000 truckloads. “That’s an immense volume, coming a long distance,” he says. “And we don’t produce sugar in Canada. It’s going to come from somewhere else. It can come efficiently, or inefficiently, but it will come.”
Yavorsky, meanwhile, is on a deadline. The next ship full of sugar is waiting in Port Weller, on the other side of Lake Ontario, and the Puffin is due in Toledo, Ohio, to pick up beans, which are destined for Rotterdam, in the Netherlands. On Sugar Beach, a lunchtime crowd has gathered to watch the Puffin float away—a modest audience, but one that’s bound to be a bit bigger the next time the captain and his crew return.
618: Ships that docked at the Port of Toronto between 2008 and 2011.
6,927,146 tonnes: Total weight of all cargo that moved through the port during that time.
2,142,264 tonnes: Amount of that cargo that was sugar. That’s the equivalent of 44,445 of the TTC’s new streetcars.
32 tonnes: Fuel, per day, that a ship like the Puffin can burn through at its top speed of 13 knots.