It's a late opening for the St. Lawrence Seaway this season. In fact, it's the latest start in five years. The reason is, the harsh winter has led to some of the worst ice conditions in the Great Lakes in decades.
Seaway officials say this winter was one of the most severe in a long time, producing thick ice cover throughout the entire Great Lakes system. It also marked the end of a ten-year warming phase.
During the last days of March, Canadian coast guard ice breakers were working overtime trying to clear a path from the Upper Great Lakes through to the end of the crucial shipping route.
The late start to the shipping season has put financial pressure on shippers and those who are waiting for goods, among them grain farmers trying to get last year's bumper crop out of Thunder Bay to overseas markets.
Officials say the seaway relies on Canadian and American coast guard icebreakers and where those vessels are deployed is the key to opening the shipping lanes. And they say this season has posed the biggest challenge in as much as 30 years.
Nevertheless, it's expected that at least 38 million tons of goods will move along the seaway this year, exceeding the 37 million tons that were transported last season.
The harsh winter hasn't dampened optimism. The shipping industry is investing heavily in new vessels, and the Seaway plans to spend half a billion dollars over the next five years on upgrades that include lock gates, rebuilding seawalls and automated gate and bridge operations.