To accomplish this, the Board of Directors and Staff of Mariners' House are committed to the pledges below, and welcome any suggestions that will contribute to the advancement of our Mission Statement.
We Pledge To…
Provide a cheerful and restful environment for seafarers while in our city, and ensure that all our mariner guests will feel welcome.
Ensure the ongoing funding and smooth functioning of the Centre.
Provide transportation to and from ships and offer any practical assistance required, including currency exchange, phone calls, and warm clothing.
Provide religious counselling and services when requested.
Foster an interest in the welfare of seafarers.
Use all means in our power to better the conditions surrounding and affecting the seafarers, and be helpful to them in every possible way.
Montreal’s wharf and port facilities at the end of the 1800s were haphazard and temporary. Ships docked alongside piers and sheds that were created for the season and then the lumber used in their construction was auctioned off in the fall before ice built up along the shore line. It was a disorderly and rough district.
In 1862, the Protestant Montreal Sailors’ Institute (MSI) was established for the “material, social, moral and spiritual welfare of seamen temporarily in the port of Montreal". Gentlemen from the Catholic Truth Society decided that something had to be done to keep Catholic seamen from the clutches of the Protestants and so, in 1893, the first ‘modern’ facility for Roman Catholic seafarers in the world was opened, the Catholic Sailors’ Club (CSC).
Both organisations worked side by side on behalf of the visiting seafarer, who was, according to reports, “prey to the keepers of drink dens, crimps, shanghaiers and the harpies who joined them in taking his money”.
In 1914, the managers of both institutes spent a week in Quebec City supervising the identification of dead seamen as a result of the Empress of Ireland disaster, which sank off Rimouski, also directing the public funeral for the victims. They continued to cooperate during the Great War, boosting morale and, during the flu epidemic of 1918, the CSC was fitted up as a general marine emergency and harbour hospital while the MSI became a home for all seafarers.
A few years later, the two institutions set up a concert hall in the premises of the MSI. The concerts held at the Montreal institutions were among the most famous sailor gatherings in the world and for three years, during the Second World War, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation produced a weekly series of programmes called The Merchant Navy Show which originated from the MSI.
The two organisations, the MSI and the CSC, amalgamated in 1968 to become Mariners’ House of Montreal.
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Mariners’ House of Montreal is a home away from home for thousands of seafarers annually. Our two vans travel the 25 kilometer length of the port every day to visit ships and to bring crew members to Mariners' House, then return them at the end of the evening. While at our facility, seafarers can place local and overseas calls, use the Internet, send money home to their families, exchange foreign currency, mail letters, purchase snacks, drinks, and souvenirs, and pick up tourist information.
In winter, warm clothing is donated to needy seafarers, who often arrive clad in sandals and cotton shirts. The annual Christmas Eve party ensures that seafarers share in the season’s celebrations. Approximately 1,700 gifts are given to those in attendance and to others on vessels scheduled to spend Christmas at sea.
Seafarers can also choose from a variety of recreational activities including pool, table tennis, and Karaoke. Books, magazines and television are also at their disposal. The Sea Chest store sells refreshments, candy, toiletries and souvenirs. And free coffee is always available!
While Mariners’ House is non-denominational, we will cater to the seafarers’ spiritual needs upon request and have a chapel on our premises and chaplains for counselling.
Historically, the majority of ships were crewed by men from the so-called ‘traditional’ seafaring nations, most of whom shared the same beliefs and values and came from similar economic backgrounds. As the steamship business became increasingly competitive throughout the world, the registry of many ships were transferred to 'flags of convenience'. In addition to offering tax breaks, this practice enabled owners to employ seafarers, often from underdeveloped nations, whose demands were much less than those of their counterparts in the developed world.
The result is that vessels crewed by a wide variety of seafarers from vastly different economic, cultural and religious backgrounds became the rule rather than the exception. Most mariners today are foreign nationals — men and women from over 70 countries use our services. These hard-working people leave their families behind for up to a year at a time in order to support them. Besides being lonely and disoriented so far from home, seafarers are nearly invisible in the society they serve.
This changing environment has had a profound effect on our missions. Where previously we dealt with many vessels, large crews and predominantly Christian seafarers, today we are faced with fewer ships and small, multinational crews of mixed religions. Given the special needs and circumstances of many of the seafarers crewing today’s ships, there is a greater requirement than ever for the continued existence of the missions.
Many of today’s seafarers, especially those from underdeveloped nations, have needs that go beyond the desire for companionship, recreation and a break from routine. Some may have complaints about conditions on board, while others may encounter social or religious discrimination, both ashore and afloat.
The seafarers’ club is just as necessary today in all ports of the world to offer a friendly haven and practical assistance.