MONTREAL — Over $2.5 billion will be invested into improving the Port of Montreal, port authorities announced over the Labour Day weekend.

It will be the first major expansion in two decades.

Montreal port president Patrice Pelletier said Sunday funds for the expansion will come from a combination of financial reserves, loans, private investment and the federal government.

Michael Fortier, minister of international trade, highlighted the importance of the port for Montreal’s economy.

“It’s such an important player in our economy and it needs room to grow,” said Fortier during a news conference.

He couldn’t confirm a government investment of $600 million needed by the Port for its expansion but said port authorities and the government are discussing the project.

“I think these plans have been well received by the government and well received by the community,” Fortier said.

Pelletier noted the expansion project is expected to add 22,000 new jobsand increase economic spinoffs from $1.5 billion to $3.5 billion.

“We’re also creating a fair amount of revenue for the government,” he said.

An initial $500 million in funding is expected to be approved by the port’s board of directors before 2009.

The first phase of the expansion will focus on refurbishing existing terminals and increasing efficiency.

The final two phases involve the construction of new terminals in east-end Montreal.

The four-part project has already begun and will be complete by 2020.

Pelletier said the port had record profits in the first six months of this year and was the most profitable port in Canada or the eastern United States.

“We’re spending more money this year, we’re going faster,” said Pelletier.

“It’s just the beginning.”

High fuel prices have not affected trade at port, he said, noting shipping goods by boat remains the cheapest transport method.

The expansion announcement was made during the Port of Montreal’s first open house that allowed visitors into areas usually off-limits to the public.

“Today there’s one objective,” said Pelletier.

“For people to understand what the port is all about.”

The organizers were expecting 20,000 to 30,000 visitors over the course of the day.