A brief history
of the Port

and Sept-Îles

Since the end of the last ice age, the bay of Sept-Îles has been home to nomadic groups, hardy fisherfolk and bold entrepreneurs. It has seen cottages crop up along its shores that grew into villages, then towns, to become a full-fledged city serving an entire region of Quebec. As new facilities were built to accommodate burgeoning industries, a small village harbour slowly grew to become one of the largest seaports in North America. Enjoy this brief look back at the Port of Sept-Îles.

Some 4,000 years before our era
-4000 ans
At the end of the last ice age, nomadic peoples—ancestors of the Mi’kmaq and Innu—begin making their way to the shores of the bay of Sept Îles. The Innu eventually make the “Uashat” (“the bay”) their permanent summer home. These hunter-gatherers migrate north in the fall to follow the herds of sacred caribou they rely on to survive the harsh winters.
Some 4,000 years before our era
1520 –1580
1520
Spanish and French Basque fishermen begin venturing across the Atlantic to the bay. Every spring, 400-ton ships run by crews of 30 to 50 set sail from the ports of Ciboure, Bayonne, Biarritz and Saint-Jean-de-Luz. By May they reach the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the bay of Sept Îles, where they spend the summer whaling and cod fishing. On one of the archipelago islands, whale blubber is melted down into whale oil used in Europe for lamp fuel and soapmaking.
1520 –1580
1535
1535
Explorer Jacques Cartier spots the islands of the archipelago while travelling up the northern coast of the St. Lawrence River. He names the place “Yles Rondes,” changing it to “Sept Yles” on his return trip.
1535
1580 — 1650
1580
It gets harder and harder to eke out a living fishing the waters of Sept-Îles, due in part to a decline in the whale population.
1580 — 1650
1661
1661
The merchant François Bissot arrives in the bay of Sept Îles, stopping at Rivière du Poste. He builds the region’s first known trading post and Sept-Îles’s very first dock, a structure 29 feet long by 10 feet wide. So begins a lucrative fur trade with the Innu and Naskapi.
1661
1692
1692
A few years into the first colonial war in North America between New France and New England, 2 English ships en route to Quebec City burn the Sept-Îles trading post to the ground.
1692
1693
1693
A raging storm batters the Royal Navy ship Le Corossol, laden with furs on its way to France. The captain tries to seek refuge in the bay from high winds and crashing waves, but the vessel is dashed against the rocks of one of the archipelago islands. The ship goes down and only a handful of people survive.
1693
1720
1720
The trading post is rebuilt and becomes a royal estate in 1733.
1720
1759
1759
The Seven Years’ War has turned to Britain’s advantage. Led by General Wolfe, the British destroy the Sept-Îles trading post as they advance on Quebec City, the capital of New France.
1759
1761
1761
New France has fallen to the British. Recognizing the strategic importance of the bay, General Murray has the trading post rebuilt. The area bustles with fishing and fur trade once again.
1761
1866
1866
Father Louis-François Babel, an Oblate missionary and evangelist from Switzerland, makes it his mission to convert the Indigenous Peoples of northeastern Quebec and Labrador. Through 1870, the intrepid explorer braves hunger and harsh winter conditions to make multiple forays into the wilderness on foot. The avid geographer and geologist meticulously observes the area with a Rochon telescope, draws up nearly a hundred maps, scouts out a number of iron ore deposits and records all his discoveries in a thick journal. Three years later, the incredible amount of data Babel collected is used to compile the first map of the interior of Labrador.
1866
1892-1899
1892
Montreal geologist Albert Peter Low embarks on expeditions to explore Labrador and Ungava, travelling more than 11,000 km. He pours over Babel’s notes and prepares surveys, refines existing maps, compiles detailed inventories and carefully examines the iron ore deposits he discovers. By the time he returns home, Low suspects the region might be hiding millions of tonnes of ore.
1892-1899
1895
1895
The village of Sept-Îles officially becomes a municipality and in the fall elect its first mayor, Édouard Vigneault, also a school teacher, telegrapher and postmaster. The Marine Hay Company, founded by entrepreneurs from Montreal, builds facilities near Rivière aux Foins to harvest seagrass from the bay. This becomes Sept-Îles’s first industry. The flexible yet hardy herbs are dried, pressed, baled and then shipped to furniture factories in Montreal to be used as upholstery materials.
1895
1898
1898
The Toronto-born Clarke brothers are looking for a site with enough woodlands to support a pulp mill for their publishing business. On a reconnaissance trip to the North Shore in August, they discover the enormous potential of Rivière Sainte-Marguerite and decide to build a hydroelectric powerhouse to harness it.
1898
1901
1901
On the evening of November 20, a storm overtakes the Saint-Olaf, a ship shuttling mail between Quebec City and Havre-Saint-Pierre. It never makes it to Sept-Îles. Concerned Sept-Îles residents set out on a rescue mission, only to find the remains of the shipwreck off Grosse Boule Island.
1901
1904
1904
The Gulf Pulp and Paper Company, recently founded by the Clarke brothers, builds Sept-Îles’s first industrial dock in Pointe-Noire. Up until this time, the village’s only port facilities were approaches along the bank at the entrance to Rivière du Poste.
1904
1905
1905
The Canadian Steam Whaling Company founded a few years earlier by English businessmen from Montreal opens a whale oil factory on Presqu’île Marconi. The company builds a ramp on Anse à la Sybille for the whalers to use as a dock.
1905
1906
1906
The Gulf Pulp and Paper Company constructs a 9-mile railway connecting the factory to the industrial dock, which eventually becomes known as the Clarke City Dock.
1906
1908
1908
On January 18, Father Conan leaves Clarke City and returns to Sept-Îles by dogsled, following the shores of the frozen bay. The ice gives way and he drowns near Rivière Rapides. The town of Clarke City is officially founded and the Gulf Pulp and Paper Company begins construction of the dam and the Sainte-Marguérite-1 hydroelectric generating station. That summer, the Sept-Îles municipal council convinces the Canadian government to build the village’s first-ever wharf, the Saint-Joseph de Sept-Îles Dock (now called the Vieux-Quai). Boats anchor as close to shore as they can and Sept-Îles villagers go out in small boats or, in the winter, dog or horse teams to pick up their mail and merchandise.
1908
1911
1911
The Gulf Pulp and Paper Company’s first loads of pulp leave the Clarke City Port for Ontario. The Steam Whaling Company is sold to Norwegian interests.
1911
1914
1914
A violent storm destroys the Vieux-Quai. The Sept-Îles community goes without a dock until 1916, when a longer one is built in the same location. In the meantime, the First World War forces the Steam Whaling Company to temporarily close its facility. The Norwegian owners set sail for Europe in the fall, never to be seen or heard from again. The facility ends up being dismantled in 1916. What became of its owners remains a mystery to this day.
1914
1932 — 1936
1932
The Canadian government refurbishes and extends the Vieux-Quai and buys the Clarke City Dock from the Gulf Pulp and Paper Company, with the 2 public docks now forming the Harbour of Seven Islands. The Labrador Mining and Exploration Company sends geologist Joseph Arthur Retty to Labrador to lead a prospecting campaign. With the help of Mathieu André, an Innu trapper from Sept-Îles, Retty finds a high-grade deposit at Lac Sawyer, about 100 km from Schefferville—a discovery that sparks the mining industry’s interest in Labrador iron.
1932 — 1936
1947
1947
The end of the Second World War and the depletion of iron reserves in the United States spurs exploration in Labrador-Ungava. Retty sets up a base camp at Lac Knob. His hard work pays off exponentially with the discovery of over 400 million tonnes of iron ore.
1947
1949
1949
A group of 8 Canadian and U.S. companies join Hollinger and Labrador Mining in founding the Iron Ore Company of Canada (IOC) to develop the Lac Knob and Labrador iron ore deposits.
1949
1950
1950
In Sept-Îles, IOC begins construction of its sorting, crushing, screening and loading facilities, a hydroelectric power plant, a 573-km railway linking Sept-Îles to Schefferville and a port with the infrastructure needed to handle the iron ore. The business comes to define the 20th century in Sept-Îles. The Vieux-Quai overflows with deliveries of tractors, graders, drillers, mechanical shovels and other supplies needed to support the fledgling industry.
1950
1952
1952
The Canadian government completes construction of the Pointe-aux-Basques Dock, an extension of the IOC dock completed the year before. The public dock will be used for handling general cargo.
1952
1954
1954
The Quebec North Shore and Labrador (QNS&L) Railway is inaugurated in Schefferville on February 13. The energy produced by the new Sainte-Marguerite-2 generating station reaches Sept-Îles on May 1. The first train loaded with ore pulls out of Schefferville on July 15 for a 16-hour journey, with 4 locomotives hauling 135 cars, each carrying 85 tonnes of ore. On July 31, the first ship is loaded at the IOC port facilities. At the official inauguration, premiers Duplessis and Smallwood take part in the symbolic tipping of the ore. The SS Hawaiian leaves the Port of Sept-Îles bound for Philadelphia with 20,500 tonnes on board. In honour of the occasion, Sept-Îles also welcomes its first cruise ship from the Saint Lawrence de la Saguenay Cruise Line carrying IOC’s 300 guests.
1954
1957
1957
An intensive program of studies on the metallurgical and economic conditions of the Wabush iron deposit is launched.
1957
1959
1959
On June 19, the Royal Yacht Britannia arrives at the IOC dock and departs the next day carrying Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, bound for home after spending a few days in Sept-Îles and Schefferville.
1959
1960
1960
Route 138 now connects Sept-Îles to the provincial road network.
1960
1961
1961
The Harbour of Seven Islands officially becomes the Port of Sept-Îles on June 9 by proclamation of the Privy Council. Imperial Oil, the bay’s main supplier of gasoline and fuel oil, builds a dock in the Sept-Îles Sector for unloading petroleum products.
1961
1962
1962
The Canadian government has the Monseigneur-Blanche Dock built to handle general cargo shipping and relieve congestion at the Vieux-Quai. Wabush Mines builds the first major port terminal in the Pointe-Noire Sector near the Clarke City Dock.
1962
1965
1965
Wabush Mines inaugurates its Pointe-Noire facilities, which include a port terminal, a pellet plant, marshalling yards, maintenance shops, storage silos and a 34-km railway linking Pointe-Noire to the QNS&L Railway.
1965
1967
1967
On July 18, in the wake of a workers’ strike that brought operations to a standstill for months, the Gulf Pulp and Paper Company announces its closure. Competition from more modern companies and the depletion of wood reserves around the paper mill are also a determining factor.
1967
1973
1973
Based on the recommendations of a committee of the Sept-Îles Chamber of Commerce, the ports and harbours division of Transport Canada cedes management of the Port of Sept-Îles and its facilities to the National Harbours Board, a federal government agency founded in 1936. Through 1983, the Port invests more than $1.5 million in studies and infrastructure under the agency’s purview, with an eye toward the city’s economic development.
1973
1974
1974
The National Harbours Board acquires land on Rue Arnaud to build the Port of Sept-Îles’s head office.
1974
1977
1977
Sept-Îles is showing signs of an economic slump. U.S. companies that buy ore pellets from the Iron Ore Company of Canada and Wabush Mines have started closing plants and reducing their consumption. Realizing that economic diversification will be the key to recovery, the Port of Sept-Îles knows it must develop its services and facilities to encourage new industries to set up in Sept-Îles. On August 1, the National Harbours Board acquires the Imperial Oil Dock and renames it the Pétroliers Dock. On December 6, after 3 years of negotiations with Wabush Mines, the National Harbours Board acquires the old Clarke City Port facilities and 400 hectares of industrial land in the Pointe-Noire Sector.
1977
1981
1981
The collapse of the iron market forces the Sept-Îles concentrator and pellet plant to shut down, putting some 500 employees out of work. The area experiences a demographic collapse in the years that follow. Many people lose their jobs, close their businesses or simply pack up and leave. The need to diversify the city’s economy weighs even more heavily on its economic leaders.
1981
1982
1982
The Vieux-Quai is expanded and upgraded and a 2-km boardwalk is later added.
1982
1983
1983
Under the Canada Ports Corporation Act, passed on February 24, the National Harbours Board becomes the Canada Ports Corporation (Ports Canada). On September 23, Ports Canada has an official groundbreaking for new port facilities at Anse à Brochu in the Pointe-Noire Sector. An 8-km road with a water main is built and plans are in the works for the construction of a 260-m long wharf with a ramp for roll-on/roll-off (ro-ro) ships.
1983
1984
1984
The Club nautique de Sept-Îles builds a marina outfitted with 120 berths not far from the Vieux-Quai. A heliport is also built on the breakwater. Ports Canada awards a $10 million contract to build the new dock at Pointe-Noire.
1984
1986
1986
Brian Mulroney inaugurates the new dock in the Pointe-Noire Sector on August 21. Hundreds of jobs are created as a result of the $56 million investment project. Hope for an economic rebound reinvigorates the community. The promising new infrastructure is named the La Relance (or “recovery”) Dock.
1986
1989
1989
An international consortium of aluminum companies, joined by the Government of Québec, chooses the Pointe-Noire Sector of Sept-Îles as the site for a new primary aluminum smelter. The year-round deep-water port, the Relance Dock, the proximity to major power grids and the skilled local workforce tip the decision in Sept-Îles’s favour. On September 1, Aluminerie Alouette has a groundbreaking for the construction of its facilities, with Robert Bourassa in attendance. The company becomes the main user of the Relance Dock and produces its first tonne of aluminum in 1992. A fishing harbour is built east of the marina. On October 7, the 22nd Canadian Forces Naval Reserve Division, HMCS Jolliet, is inaugurated.
1989
1990
1990
A large winter storage yard and dock (Arcand) are constructed with a 125-ton boat lift for launching fishing and pleasure boats.
1990
1993
1993
To connect the railways of northern Quebec and Labrador to the rest of the North American rail network, the Railcar-Ferry Dock is built east of the Relance Dock. It provides rail-ferry service between the Port of Sept-Îles and the Port of Matane.
1993
1994
1994
On April 30, HMCS Jolliet inaugurates the Naval Reserve buildings in Sept-Îles.
1994
1998
1998
Ports Canada acquires the Wabush Mines Dock and renames it the Pointe-Noire Terminal.
1998
1999
1999
Under the Canada Marine Act passed the previous year, the Port of Sept-Îles becomes an autonomous organization independent of the Canadian government both administratively and financially. The people of Sept-Îles are now in charge of the Port’s management and operations. The vision for the new company’s future will be based solely on the realities and needs of the local community.
1999
2010
2010
Cliffs Natural Resources becomes the full owner of Wabush Mines, the Arnaud Railway and the Pointe-Noire port handling facilities. On October 4, the Port of Sept-Îles, the City of Sept-Îles and the Innu Takuaikan Uashat mak Mani-Utenam (ITUM) band council inaugurate the Cruise Ship Dock and it welcomes its first ship, the Norwegian Spirit.
2010
2012
2012
To increase its shipping capacity to some 100 million tonnes per year, the Port of Sept-Îles begins construction of the Multi-user Dock, a $220 million project funded 50% by mining companies planning to extract natural resources in northern Quebec and Labrador. It is Canada’s largest shipyard.
2012
2013
2013
Cliffs Natural Resources suspends operations at its Sept-Îles pellet plant due to high operating costs. When Cliffs Natural Resources refuses to let other companies have access to the railway leading to the Multi-user Dock, the Port of Sept-Îles insists the stretch in question should be subject to the Canada Transportation Act like the rest of the Arnaud Railway, kicking off a 2-year legal battle. The City of Sept-Îles, the Port of Sept-Îles and their partners establish the Environmental Observatory for the bay of Sept Îles, an innovative approach to characterizing the bay’s ecosystem. The large-scale study, locally commissioned by the Northern Institute for Research in Environment and Occupational Health and Safety (INREST), aims to provide a broad understanding of the bay and a better grasp of the impact of human activity on its shores.
2013
2014
2014
In November, Cliffs Natural Resources begins shutting down the Lac Bloom mine near Fermont and the final loads are shipped in mid-December.
2014
2015
2015
Construction on the Multi-user Dock is completed, not far from the remains of the Clarke City Dock. The new marine terminal has the largest loading capacity in North America, at 8,000 tonnes per hour. And with a depth of 22 m, it can accommodate some of the largest mineral ore vessels in the world. Sharing this mega-infrastructure will allow the partner mining companies to save up to 40% on transport costs and become more competitive on the international iron market. On May 20, Wabush Iron Co. Limited, Wabush Resources Inc., Wabush Mines, Arnaud Railway Company and Wabush Lake Railway Company, Limited (owned by Cliffs Natural Resources) are granted an order under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act. After 2 years of litigation with the Port of Sept-Îles, Cliffs Natural Resources gives up the fight and cedes access to its Pointe-Noire rail facilities, marking a huge milestone in the commissioning of the Multi-user Dock.
2015
2016
2016
As part of the court liquidation process initiated by Cliffs Natural Resources, the Government of Québec acquires the bankrupt company’s port handling facilities and the Arnaud Railway. The Société ferroviaire et portuaire de Pointe-Noire (SFP Pointe-Noire) is created as a limited partnership between the Government of Québec and a consortium of private companies that extract natural resources in northern Quebec and Labrador. SFP Pointe-Noire becomes the primary steward of the Pointe-Noire port and railway facilities. The Port of Sept-Îles acquires Block Z, some 400 hectares of vacant land stretching 5 km along the Aluminerie Alouette access road. SFP Pointe-Noire works closely with the Port of Sept-Îles and local mining companies to revive economic activity in Pointe-Noire. Tata Steel loads its first shipment of iron ore at the Pointe-Noire Terminal in October. The Cielo Europa leaves the bay of Sept Îles laden with 100,000 tonnes of ore.
2016
2017
2017
Société du Plan Nord acquires all of Investissement Québec’s shares in SFP Pointe-Noire. SFP Pointe-Noire signs a long-term service agreement with Quebec Iron Ore. That year, almost 1 million tonnes of ore pass through SFP Pointe-Noire’s facilities.
2017
2018
2018
SFP Pointe-Noire completes the construction of a conveyor system linking the Multi-user Dock to the rest of the Pointe-Noire industrial facilities and signs a long-term service agreement with Tacora Resources. The commissioning is inaugurated on March 26 and the Multi-user Dock welcomes its first ship, the M/V Magnus Oldendorff. The bulk carrier leaves the Port of Sept-Îles for Qingdao, China, carrying nearly 200,000 tonnes of ore mined at Fermont by Quebec Iron Ore. On December 3, after 4 years of research by a multidisciplinary team of more than 40 environmental experts, the Environmental Observatory for the bay of Sept Îles releases its final report. The findings will allow the Port to better understand the impact of its activities and adapt its practices accordingly.
2018
2019
2019
The Port of Sept-Îles celebrates 20 years of autonomy since the Sept-Îles Port Authority was created in 1999. In August the Port welcomes the community to the Monseigneur-Blanche Dock for XXL Day. More than 1,500 people come out to enjoy the waterfront and celebrate Sept-Îles culture in style with music, games, public market kiosks, mackerel fishing contests, free local beer and tastings of local North Shore products. To mark its 20 years of autonomy, the Port also teams up with Microbrasserie La Compagnie to craft a commemorative beer, Pointe aux Basques. For every Pointe aux Basques beer sold, the microbrewery and the Port donate to a local community organization.
2019
2020
2020
SFP Pointe-Noire and Englobe Corp. partner to establish the Pointe-Noire Soil Treatment Centre. The Pointe Noire–based joint venture marks a first milestone in the industrial diversification of this strategic sector of the bay of Sept Îles.
2020
2021
2021
The Port of Sept-Îles completes upgrades to the Pointe-aux-Basques Dock—some 50 years after it was first built by the Canadian government.
2021

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