10 Major Ports On The Great Lakes

The Great Lakes are a group of five interconnected lakes in North America that are linked to the Atlantic Ocean through the Saint Lawrence River. These include Lake Superior, Michigan, Erie, Huron and Ontario, close to the Canada-US border.

The Great Lakes are the biggest group of freshwater lakes on our planet in terms of total area and are second-largest by volume, as they hold 21% of the world’s freshwater. They have sea-like features, including strong currents, waves, greater depths, etc., which is why they are also called inland seas.

These lakes were formed in the Last Glacial Period about 14,000 years ago. They are significant water bodies that play a key role in the maritime transportation of cargo and people.

They contribute to fishing, regional trade, commerce, recreation, and tourism, harbouring much of the region’s aquatic biodiversity. The region which surrounds them is called the Great Lakes region.

There are many ports on these lakes that support the economy of the Great Lakes Region. This article will look at ten major ports of the Great Lakes.

So Let’s Begin!

1. Port of Duluth-Superior

Duluth-Superior is said to be the biggest and busiest port of the Great Lakes. It is situated on Lake Superior and is North America’s farthest inland freshwater port.

It has a 9-mile natural breakwater that protects its 49 miles of harbour frontage. It also has 20 bulk cargo docks, an award-winning general cargo terminal, a fueling depot, a shipyard, several tug and barge services, and an intermodal cargo terminal.

Port of Duluth-Superior
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It is a diversified multimodal port providing shipping services via the Great Lakes-Saint Lawrence Seaway and direct Class I rail services to the east, west and the Gulf coast.

Principal cargoes handled at the port include iron ore, coal, limestone and grains. It receives shipments of cement, salt, energy-related project cargo, fertiliser etc.

Approximately 35 million tonnes of cargo is handled at this port annually.

2. Port of Chicago

Port of Chicago lies on the Chicago River on the southwest shore of Lake Michigan. It has served as a commercial shipping centre for ages.

Traders of fur utilised it as a point of distribution for their commodities.

Port of Chicago
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It has several berths, including a terminal with 100 acres of warehouse facilities. All wharves have excellent storage and rail services.

The port deals with varied cargoes like steel, ores, petrochemicals, non-ferrous metals, cement, coke, stone, iron scrap, liquid bulk, general cargo, grains, sugar etc.

Approximately 26,000,000 tonnes of cargo is handled at the port annually.

It can accommodate any ship crossing the St Lawrence Seaway and barges travelling the inland waterway from the Mexico Gulf.

3. Port of Cleveland

Cleveland Port lies on the southern shores of Lake Erie, 150 nautical miles west of the Seaway exit. It is the biggest port on Lake Erie and the 3rd largest U.S. Port in the Great Lakes Region.

It is also the first U.S. Great Lakes Port that functions as a trade gateway to midwest markets like Columbus, Detroit, Indianapolis, Chicago and Cincinnati.

Port of Cleveland
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It has created more than 20,000 jobs and around $3.5 billion in economic activity annually. Approximately 13 million tonnes of cargo pass through the Cleveland harbour each year.

The port’s main cargo is unfinished steel products and bulk. It has 11 deepwater berths, including 2 river docks that are sheltered by 9 kilometre-long breakwater to ensure safe berthing.

The port’s bulk terminal handles cement, iron ore, limestone and salt. The 45-acre facility is equipped with an automated ship loader system. The general cargo terminal covers 80 acres and has 2 mobile crates and 2 Class 1 railroads, and a huge storage area.

4. Port of Toledo

Port of Toledo is situated at the mouth of River Maumee at the western end of Lake Erie in Ohio. The port was and is still crucial for the regional economy. The Port of Toledo was known for industrial manufacturing when automobiles came into being.

It is home to many companies like Owens Corning and Dana Corporation and is known for manufacturing glass and auto parts. The port is also a transportation hub and also a centre for retail. Toledo Port is also famous for the Big Lucas and Little Lucas, two of the biggest cranes of any Great Lakes port.

Port of Toledo
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The port’s focal point is the 61-ha overseas cargo centre situated along the 1.6 kilometres of a straight wharf at the Maumee River mouth.

Various facilities allow the port to handle 10,000,000 tonnes of cargo annually, with exports being grains, coal, machines, lumber and chemicals. At the same time, imports comprise iron pellets, fertilisers, steel, bulk, non-ferrous metals and petroleum.

5. Port of Milwaukee

Milwaukee, Wisconsin, lies on the western shores of Michigan Lake, about 75 miles north of Chicago. It serves a hinterland stretching north to the border of Canada, south to the Missouri border and west towards the Rocky Mountains.

Port of Milwaukee
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It has 16 berthing facilities and two barge berths. It handles steel, machines, raw materials, grains, flour, dairy items, scrap etc. Approximately 2.3 million tonnes of cargo pass through it annually. The port has created over 1300 jobs and generates $ 106.5 million in economic activities.

The port was born in 1835 when European settlers came to the region due to its accessibility through the three rivers that flow into Lake Michigan. Today, these streams are witnessing industrial and commercial development on their banks.

6. Port of Toronto

Toronto Port lies on the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario, about 41 kilometres from Port Weller near the entrance to Welland Canal.

It is one of the largest inland ports in Canada, with one-third of the country’s total market within its 160 km radius. Toronto Harbour is well sheltered by a chain of offshore islands and is 3.2 km long and 0.4 km wide, having two entry channels.

Port of Toronto
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It has deepwater wharves for handling bulk products and also heated, refrigerated and indoor storage areas along with container handling facilities.

Major exports include steel, lumber, agricultural and construction equipment, tallow, chemicals, general cargo etc. Imports include machines, textiles, sugar, vegetable oil, household items, liquors and so on. Apart from cargo, it also welcomes cruise ships from across the globe.

The Toronto Port handles approximately 2,068,000 tonnes of cargo annually.

7. Port of Green Bay

The Port of Green Bay is the westernmost port of Lake Michigan. It lies on the Fox River at the southern end of Green Bay, situated at the northwestern corner of Lake Michigan.

It provides the shortest and the most direct route for shipments between the Midwest and the world.

Port of Green Bay
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An extensive network of railroads and highways offers great connectivity from the port to the regional markets and the heartland of America.

Several port businesses are located along the 3 miles of the Fox River, which move over 2 million tonnes of cargo on more than 200 ships.

The port handles a range of cargo, including wheat, flour, barley, rolled oats, soya, salt, bulk liquids like petroleum products, tallow, liquid asphalt, breakbulk like wood pulp and forest products, project cargo, building materials like cement etc. Coal and limestone are the facility’s two most important bulk cargoes.

Approximately 1,900,000 tonnes of cargo and 200 vessels are handled annually.

8. Port of Goderich

The Port of Goderich is situated at the mouth of Maitland River on the eastern bank of Lake Huron, around 90 km northeast of Sarnia. It is the only deepwater facility on the eastern coast of Lake Huron.

It serves and aids the region’s mining sector and manufacturing and agricultural industries by handling and shipping the required raw materials, thereby propelling the local economy. Goderich has transformed into an important commercial shipping hub in southwestern Ontario.

Port of Goderich
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Approximately 250 vessels dock within Goderich Port every year, carrying commodities like grains, salt and calcium chloride. Apart from cargo handling, the port is sometimes used by fishing vessels too.

It has 5 wharves and has been a grain distribution centre for more than a century. It was recently expanded with the addition of a new wharf and modern loading facilities, especially for dealing with salt. Around 5,000,000 tonnes of cargo is handled annually at Goderich.

9. Port of Hamilton

Hamilton has been a famous Great Lakes Port city since the 1800s. It is just 66 km west of Niagara Falls and the U.S. border. The city witnessed gradual growth until the 1820s, when a canal was built, turning the town into a principal port.

After this, the population grew with migrations from the U.S. Soon; it became a key manufacturing and industrial town. In fact, Hamilton is now the biggest steel producer in Canada. It is popular among tourists for its numerous parks and small waterfalls like the Devil’s Punchbowl Falls, Bayfront Park, Tiffany Falls Conservation Area etc.

Port of Hamilton
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The Hamilton Port, earlier known as Burlington Bay, lies at the southwestern end of Lake Ontario. It has more than 11,000 metres of berthing space that deals with raw materials like coal and iron ore, sand, grains, soybeans, fertilisers and jet fuel.

About 700 vessels and over 12,000,000 tonnes of cargo are handled by the port every year.

10. Port of Windsor

Windsor Port extends around 11.4 nautical miles along the Canadian coast of the Detroit River between Lake Erie and Lake St Clair, opposite Detroit, Michigan.

Windsor Port has 14 terminals that deal with an array of cargo such as salt, stone, lumber, grains, fluorspar, petroleum products, vehicles, steel, heavy lifts and construction aggregates. It is also capable of handling the largest deepwater ships plying the Great Lakes.

Port of Windsor
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Morterm Ltd provides extensive quayage facilities, including services like ship repair, stevedoring, berthing etc.

Over the past decade, the port has handled increasing cargo volumes and now handles approximately 5 million tonnes a year. It is visited by more than 1000 cargo-laden ships and over 4000 passengers.

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Disclaimer: The author’s views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Marine Insight. Data and charts, if used in the article, have been sourced from available information and have not been authenticated by any statutory authority. The author and Marine Insight do not claim it to be accurate nor accept any responsibility for the same. The views constitute only the opinions and do not constitute any guidelines or recommendations on any course of action to be followed by the reader.

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About Author

Zahra is an alumna of Miranda House, University of Delhi. She is an avid writer, possessing immaculate research and editing skills. Author of several academic papers, she has also worked as a freelance writer, producing many technical, creative and marketing pieces. A true aesthete at heart, she loves books a little more than anything else.

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