Mariners’ House of Montreal
Mariners' House of Montreal is a home away from home for seafarers who spend long periods of time away from family and friends.
Carolyn Osborne has been the heart and soul of Mariners' House for almost
20 years. She would rather welcome people than travel.
There are almost 500 seafarers’ centres listed in the directory published by the International Committee on Seafarers’ Welfare. Among the 16 centres in Canada is Mariners’ House of Montreal, managed for the past 19 years by Carolyn Osborne. With kind eyes and a warm smile, Carolyn sets the tone for Mariner’s House. Good humour and a cheerful environment reign at the centre, where seafarers can relax and enjoy a coffee or a beer and good conversation.
Carolyn’s five-person team welcomed more than 12,000 seafarers last year. Many of the visiting mariners wanted to use the Internet to communicate with loved ones back home. Mariners’ House also has telephone booths and calling cards, games, ping pong and pool tables, a karaoke machine, a television, movies, shelves stacked with books, tables and chairs. Mariners’ House is decorated as if it were someone’s home. A small store in the middle of the building sells souvenirs, clothes, useful items, drinks and snacks.
To the right of the entrance is a place of prayer for all religions and where Catholic and Protestant chaplains are present. Bibles in all languages are available. Prayer time is at about 9 o’clock each night. “Many seafarers are very religious – Filipinos, devout Catholics, Indians …” says Jason Zuidema, chaplain with the Ministry to Seafarers, an organization that works with Mariners’ House.
telephones to Skype
The telephone was the favourite communication tool among Mariners’ House visitors for many years. Today, it’s Skype. “Young seafarers often travel with their own laptop,” Dr. Zuidema says. “They are as hooked as we are. In fact, the first place they often want to visit in Montreal is Future Shop!”
After receiving the list of ships arriving in the Port of Montreal and armed with the crew lists, the chaplains pick up mariners dockside in one of two vans purchased with funds from numerous donors including the International Transport Workers’ Federation, an organization that represents the interests of seafarers worldwide and is affiliated with numerous unions.
Retirees Betty and Peter Mostert enjoy helping and talking to seafarers.
When Montreal’s cruise season is in full swing in autumn, Carolyn’s team welcomes up to 400 mariners per day! Luckily, she can count on help from volunteers, many of whom are from outside of Montreal. Ministry to Seafarers provides them with a free apartment in downtown Montreal as well as a métro pass for a period of three weeks. In exchange, these volunteers agree to help out at Mariners’ House. They work four days in row, from 5 to 11 p.m., followed by a day off.
Betty and Peter Mostert, retired teachers from Mont-Tremblant, have made two annual treks to Montreal, in June and October, for many years now. “Previously, we had sent shoeboxes filled with gifts for the Mariners’ House Christmas Eve party,” Betty said. “When we retired, we decided to do more. This gives meaning to our lives.” Added Peter: “Most important is the discussions and exchanges that we enjoy with the sailors.”
a longstanding tradition
Mariners’ House celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2012. Originally, the Montreal Sailors’ Institute was founded by Scottish-Canadians as a place to help keep mariners away from bars, prostitutes and thieves. “In the past, ships stayed in port for a good two weeks, which is how long it took to unload them,” Ms. Osborne said. The Sailors’ Institute offered seafarers a safe haven.
In 1893, the Catholic Sailors’ Club was founded to separate Catholic and Protestant seafarers. The two centres co-existed for years. Together, they even started up a concert hall that quickly became a major gathering place for mariners. The concerts were talked about all over the world. During the Second World War, CBC broadcast the weekly “Merchant Navy Show” from the concert hall over a three-year period. The two organizations eventually decided to join forces and they merged in 1968.
A statue of Stella Maris, Virgin Star of the Sea, at Notre-Dame-
des-Neiges Cemetery on Mount Royal.
Mariners’ House has a plot at Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery, on Mount Royal, where seafarers who passed away on a crossing to Montreal are buried. An impressive statue of the Virgin Star of the Sea, in a sailboat, watches over foreign sailors whose lives unfortunately ended on their way to Montreal.
Several events are organized each year to help finance Mariners’ House of Montreal. They include an annual ball, an Italian fiesta and the sale of a cash calendar. The Port of Montreal is a Mariners’ House supporter, and Jean-Luc Bédard, vice-president of operations and harbour master, is a member of the organization’s board of directors. Also, each ship that enters the Port of Montreal is invited to make a voluntary contribution of $35 to the centre.
Mariners’ House can also rely on ship chandlers to provide dinner at the centre’s annual Christmas Eve Party. During the Holiday Season, hundreds of donors send to Mariners’ House warm clothes for seafarers, many of whom are surprised by our winters, as well as gifts wrapped in shoeboxes: games, books, candy, soap and toiletries, pens, notepads and agendas, or, in other words, anything that might help a seafarer pass time at sea.
To learn more about Mariners’ House of Montreal and to send your donations of clothes and other gifts for seafarers, visit: www.marinershouse.ca.
tuques for seafarers
If during a trip to Europe or Asia you meet a sailor sporting a navy blue tuque featuring the Port of Montreal logo, don’t be surprised!
The Port of Montreal had some 1,300 tuques sporting its new logo specifically made to celebrate the 150th anniversary Mariners’ House of Montreal. Tuques were distributed to all seafarers who visited Mariners’ House during December 2012.
It was a great way to combine something useful with something fashionable. Seafarers from warm climates have been known to disembark in Montreal in the middle of winter wearing sandals, shorts and a T-shirt! The port tuque was a welcome gift.
In addition, industry members purchased more than 800 tuques. Profits of $3,212 from these sales were turned over to Mariners’ House.
“This tuque recognizes the profoundly human character of Mariners’ House and how it welcomes seafarers during their stay in our port. Our tuques are now travelling the world,” said Sylvie Vachon, president and CEO of the Montreal Port Authority, during the cheque presentation.
Jean-Luc Bédard, vice-president of operations and harbour master at the Port of Montreal, underscored the generosity of Port of Montreal partners who supported the initiative by purchasing dozens if not hundreds of tuques. “They made sales take off. Without them, we would not have had this much success. This is a real sign of appreciation for the work of these seafarers who contribute to the success of Montreal’s port operations.”
A framed tuque is proudly displayed on a Mariners’ House wall. The Port of Montreal intends to continue the initiative later this year. What’s next? Mittens? Scarves? Stay tuned.