Christmas for Seafarers in the Port of Oshawa

Article audio (courtesy of Don Sheetz)

by Susan Huppert, NAMMA

Small is still significant

On the northwestern edge of Lake Ontario is one of the ten seafarers’ centres in Canadian ports affiliated to the Anglican global ministry of The Mission to Seafarers. This rather modest mission began in 2016 from the doorstep of a 43 ft. x 10 ft. trailer. The structure was towed from a parking lot to Station 43 at the Port of Oshawa. Volunteers painted and renovated to create a place of comfort and care for those who would find themselves in this small port. The Mission in Oshawa quickly became significant for international seafarers and continues today.

Current Regional Director for The Mission to Seafarers Canada Judith Alltree remembers the introduction of the Oshawa outreach.

“We worked hard to set up that trailer affectionately named after Archbishop Terrance Finlay, a highly regarded leader of the Anglican Church of Canada.

“It is a tiny space,” said Alltree. “There is still no running water there, but seafarers love to get off there. The welcome is huge.”

The structure within the Port of Oshawa appears insignificant at first glance. Its mission is not. The port of Oshawa only accommodates four ships at a time. It is a rare occurrence that more than two are in port. Yet each ship of perhaps 20 seafarers is met in Oshawa personally.

Oshawa is small but significant to a dedicated ship visitor, Jill Wylie who attentively tracks ship movements. Because of the port’s size, the contact with seafarers can tend to be more immediate. 

The Terry Finlay Seafarers’ Center feels to some as their personal neighborhood mission where they serve with grace looking for no response or return. They ensure that the tiny outreach is the best it can be.

“There is no holding them back,” said Alltree.

Wylie echoes that message explaining that the volunteer time given to seafarers is like “mitzvah.”

“When asked by seafarers why I do this, I tell them it’s something where a blessing is conferred upon the doer when a favor or act of kindness is done for another,” said the Oshawa volunteer. 

She understands their need. Seeing the faces of those who have been at sea for 45 days finally able to get off their ship in Oshawa, or those who have faced stormy seas on the Atlantic arrive in port, her purpose settles within.

Christmas outreach is a joyous undertaking for the Oshawa center.

One volunteer, Vyvyan, struggles with arthritis.

“For more than 30 years of concern for seafarers, she has knit hundreds of scarves,” said Alltree.

The human touch the seafarers miss is given through these gifts.  Thanks to the hands that craft these gifts those working at sea, see themselves as human, rather than a cog in a global industry.

Prior to the recent pandemic, up to 15 volunteers were involved in Oshawa in some form.

Since then, many have dropped off.

Today, there are only two ship visitors. Christmas giving is now their focus.

Wylie has been collecting gift items since last winter. This is her seventh season.

One Christmas Eve she received a WhatsApp message from a seafarer requesting Christmas decorations for the mess room of his vessel. With limited time and goods left on the store shelves she accomplished her goal without hesitation.

“I know we can make a huge difference,” she said. “It’s gratifying to be able to help these guys with whatever they need.”  

Nothing given is without thought. Gift packages of toiletries, games, candies and necessities, along with hand-made hats and scarves will be given again this year. Alltree finds the generosity of those connected to the Port of Oshawa a very humbling thing to watch.

“However small it may look to others,” said Wylie, “this is what we do.”

Photo: Volunteers pack Christmas presents with Mission to Seafarers Southern Ontario. (courtesy of MTSSO).


NAMMA members receive a print copy of The MARE Report, NAMMA’s annual magazines for seafarer’s welfare professionals