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Connecting one of the largest countries on earth, Canada’s transportation system comprises more than 1.4 million kilometres of roads, 10 major international airports, 300 smaller airports, more than 72,000 kilometres of functioning railroad, and more than 300 commercial ports and harbours offering access to three oceans, as well as the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway.

With the distances Canadians and their goods need to travel and with the importance of international trade to the economy, transportation accounts for a considerable share of Canada’s gross domestic product (GDP)—4.6%, or $56.8 billion in 2008.

The sector’s production grew a total 8.8% from 2004 to 2008, but just 0.3% in the last year of that period.

Transportation accounted for 691,900 jobs in 2008, or 4.7% of all jobs. Within the sector, truck transportation employed 26% of workers; transit and ground passenger transportation accounted for 17%; air transportation, nearly 10%; warehousing and storage, 6%; and rail transportation, nearly 6%.

Trucking still tops

The largest employer, trucking, also accounted for the largest share of transportation’s contribution to GDP—28% in 2008. Transportation by air, water and rail combined contributed 22%.

Only trucking and air transportation saw much growth over the period 2004 to 2008: air transportation’s output rose 37%; trucking’s rose 11%.

Canadian trucking companies that posted annual revenue of $1 million or more hauled 607 million tonnes of goods in 2006, 3.4% more than in 2005. Domestic shipments accounted for 86% of the tonnage carried; transborder shipments made up 14%. However, transborder shipments accounted for 35% of total trucking revenue. 

The average transborder shipment travelled 1,345 kilometres; the average domestic hauls, 481 kilometres. In 2006, nearly one-quarter of the tonnage hauled originated in the Toronto, Montréal and Edmonton census metropolitan areas. Hamilton posted the fourth highest tonnage and Vancouver the fifth highest.

Some products, such as automobiles, are carried by truck or rail, but rail transport also handles larger quantities of non-containerized commodities.

In 2008, Canada’s rail carriers hauled 37 million tonnes of wheat, other grains and cereals and other food and alcoholic and non-alcoholic products; 34 million tonnes of iron ores and concentrates; 34 million tonnes of coal; and 26 million tonnes of wood and wood products.

Containerized shipping accounted for 10% of the international tonnage handled in 2006—about 33 million tonnes, or 3.9 million twenty-foot equivalent units of containers, a 40% increase since 2001.

The Port of Vancouver handled nearly 57% of the country’s container traffic in 2006, making it Canada’s busiest container port. It was also the busiest port overall, handling 80 million tonnes of cargo, including containers, in 2006.