The Mission to Seafarers: Port of Thunder Bay

Purpose of the Mission
Updated January 26, 2022

Jesus said, "Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me." Matthew 25:34-36

The Missions to Seamen was organized in England in 1856, and the name was changed in 2000 to Mission to Seafarers to better reflect the society we serve. There are 800 Christian maritime missions of which approximately 300 are Mission to Seafarers. Here in Thunder Bay, also known as the Lakehead, the Mission to Seafarers was organized December 6, 1961 (St. Nicolas' Day) and 1962 was the first season of operation. The Seaman's Church Institute was the predecessor of the Mission, but it had ceased to operate in the mid 1950's; visit our History page for more about our history.

The Mission's services are offered without reference to race, creed or religion. Most services are offered without charge, although donations are encouraged. They are available to any seafarers in the Port of Thunder Bay.

The emphasis for our mission is the ocean-going ships. Each year 100 to 130 ocean-going vessels come to Thunder Bay with crews from India, Philippines, Poland, Ukraine, the Netherlands and many other countries. English is the working language on these ships. Go to Statistics for monthly and yearly stats. 

The crew is aboard for 6 to 13 months, at sea for weeks at a time, and while in port has only a day or two to go ashore and purchase sundry items. The wage for an Able Seaman is $1,400 US a month. Some berths are far enough away to be an expensive taxi ride and the increased security environment makes it more necessary for the Mission to Seafarers to assist seafarers getting ashore. Many are visiting Thunder Bay for the first time and are unfamiliar with our customs and the layout of the city. For a seafarer, safety is an issue; we forget that Thunder Bay is a fairly safe place to be, and docks in other cities are dangerous places. Many berths have had pay phones removed, and the Mission helps them to phone home. Enabling seafarers to connect with their family by phone or Internet is a very important way to care for them. The Chaplain, Watch Keepers and Drivers are here to assist.

The purpose of the Mission to Seafarers is to promote the spiritual, moral and physical well being of seafarers and their families world-wide. The Mission to Seafarers is an Anglican Mission and works ecumenically with our partners, primarily the Roman Catholic Diocese of Thunder Bay. Christian principles and the practice of the Anglican Diocese of Algoma and the Mission to Seafarers of London, England guide the operation of the Mission. 

Our goals fall into two categories, Direct Ministry and Providing Resources to Minister to Seafarers:

Direct Ministry

o   communications facilities and the purchase of SIM cards so that they may contact their family and friends;

o   Bibles in various languages, free of charge; and

o   warm clothing.

Providing Resources to Minister to Seafarers

The Rev'd Canon Ed Swayze has a full time position as the chaplain to the Mission to Seafarers and the Pastor of  St. Stephen the Martyr Anglican Church. He is also chaplain at HMCS GRIFFON.

Volunteers help as Watch Keeper, Drivers and Ship Visitors. Watch Keepers are trained to assist seafarers at the Seafarers Centre. Volunteers who are experienced as a Watch Keeper and Driver may be made a Ship Visitor. For further information, read Volunteer Opportunity and Things that make volunteers feel good. About 25 volunteers work for the Mission to Seafarers. 

The Seafarers' Centre Manager and Assistant Seafarers' Centre Manager ensures that the Centre is ready for seafarers to visit; see Ministry Description - Seafarers Centre Manager.

Services Offered

Ship Visiting
The chaplain or a volunteer ship visitor visits over 80% ocean going ships within 24 hours of it coming alongside to orient the crew to the city, arrange for a pick-up with the van and respond to requests for help. A pamphlet, Seafarers' Guide to Thunder Bay, is left with the crew. It has information on the Mission, shopping, places of worship close to berths. Magazines and tourist information are also left.

The Mission's van will pick crew up at their ship, take them to shopping, the Seafarersí Centre at Keefer Terminal and back to their ship. They may enjoy a tour of the city. If an officer has family on board, arrangements may be made to take his wife and children shopping or to a place where the children can play. If a ship is alongside for a longer period of time, the crew may be taken to local tourist attractions.

The Chaplain does not normally use the Mission's van for ship visiting as he has a car allowance through the Diocese of Algoma, which the Mission to Seafarers helps fund. The van was purchased using a grant from The ITF Seafarers' Trust.

Hospitality at the Seafarers Centre
Watch Keepers provide hospitality for the seafarers. Comments from our guest log tell us that seafarers enjoy the opportunity to talk with people from Thunder Bay and to be in an environment that is safe and not work. Many of our volunteers are seniors, and seafarers enjoy contact with them. They miss their own family and contact with volunteers meets a little bit of the need for family.

A games table and satellite TV are available, and if a special event is on such as the World Cup seafarers can catch the game. Coffee is offered for free, pop is sold for $1.00. The chapel is open for prayer and quiet reflection. The Seafarers' Centre is located at Keefer Terminal, 100 Main St. (extension of the Harbour Expressway).

Currency Exchange
We offer a limited exchange of Canadian, US and Euros funds; and drive seafarers to a bank if unable to exchange their currency.

Seafarers are really interested in Internet access. Wi-Fi is available and one computer with a webcam and Skype is available for seafarers to access the Internet.

SIM Card
A SIM card and credit voucher are offered for sale at the Seafarers' Centre and from ship visitors. A SIM card is used in mobile devices. 

Warm Clothing
Foreign seafarers come from warmer countries and often do not have warm clothing. Used clothing is available for the seafarers to take. Clean used or new but usable warm small/large sized men's clothing is needed. Seafarers coming in October to December and April to May often are not dressed for winter conditions. Suggested donations are: sweaters, jackets, T-shirts, mitts and toques.
A drop-off box is provided outside of the Seafarers' Centre for the public to drop clothing off. 

Used magazines and paperback books are available for the seafarers to take. A drop-off box is provided outside of the Seafarers' Centre for the public to drop books and magazines off.

The Seafarersí Guide to Thunder Bay has information on the nearest place of worship to various berths in the Port, so that seafarers may attend worship on their own initiative.

If the crew requests a Eucharist or mass and it is not possible for them to walk to a church, arrangements may be made to take the crew to a church or have a service on board with a Roman Catholic priest or the Chaplain.

Hospital Visiting
When a seafarer is hospitalized the chaplain and volunteers will visit the seafarer and provide whatever assistance possible. If his or her ship sails, the seafarer is flown home after discharge.

Christmas Gift Bags
Donations such as mittens/gloves, playing cards, hand-held games/puzzles, small unbreakable Christmas ornament; or wrapped candy or gum may be brought to the Seafarers' Centre no later than the second last Monday in November. Gift bags are made up and distributed in December to crew aboard ships; click here for further information.

Ministry of Bible Distribution
A seafarer, Honesto sits in his cabin. It has been 2 weeks since the ship left port. A storm has ragged for 3 days. Honesto is tired from long watches. The crew are not getting along. Honesto opens his Bible and reads the 23rd Psalm. The assurance that God is with him helps him to go and do another watch. A Bible offers comfort, it helps a person to discover how to deal with problems and be in relationship with Jesus Christ.

In many parts of the world Bibles are difficult to obtain. 

The Mission maintains a stock of Bibles in 28 languages and each year $250 is budgeted from our General Fund for the purchase of Bibles. They are purchased from the Canadian Bible Society or donated by the Gideon Bible Society. Languages most commonly distributed are Tagalong (Philippine dialect), Polish, Spanish and Ukrainian. Many a seafarer has walked out of the Seafarers' Centre with a smile on his or her face because of the gift of a Bible.

Churches or groups may wish to purchase Bibles or donate money to purchase Bibles in particular language.

Mission to Seafarers: Port of Thunder Bay Home Page