The Mission to Seafarers: Flying Angels Club

e_p10_streetLocated at 401 East Waterfront Road at the foot of Dunlevy Avenue, this house represents the historic area from which the City of Vancouver began its development. Vancouver’s first public school, the Hastings Saw Mill (circa 1865), the Hastings Mill Store (1865) that housed Vancouver’s first post office, library and community centre were all located around this site.

Today only the Mission to Seafarers building remains, hedged in by the railway on one side and the busy Port of Vancouver (POV) operations on the other. Due to security measures after 9/11, the only access by walking or driving is an overpass at the foot of Main Street.

The house was built by BC Mills Timber and Trading Co, in 1906 as the offices for the promotion and sales of pre-fabricated houses, schools and churches. Each office showcased a different type of BC wood: fir, hemlock, red cedar, balsam. Unfortunately the offices were painted over in the 1920s. In 1930, Vancouver Harbour Commissioners occupied the site until 1936 when the National Harbours Board purchased the building. In 1973, Mission to Seafarers took possession of the house which it leases from the Port of Vancouver for one dollar a year.

The Mission is part of a worldwide organization begun in 1835 and has a presence in over 250 ports. The services this mission provides are truly remarkable. It ministers to the emotional, physical and spiritual needs of sailors who visit Vancouver. As listed on their website: friendly staff offer seafarers a comfortable lounge, chapel, billiards room, used clothing store, shop for snacks, souvenirs and toiletries, telephone booths, computer cyber-cafe for internet access and e-mail, international money transfers, cable television, phone cards, free magazines and books. A worship service including Mass/Communion can be held either at the Mission or on board ship when requested. Chaplains visit ships and are always available. (At Christmas, gifts are provided and delivered to the ships.)

All the missions are managed by the local diocese of the Anglican Church but they operate ecumenically with a team of Anglican, Catholic, Protestant and lay chaplains.

There is also medical assistance and legal advocacy. Many seafarers suffer from poor working conditions including long hours, low wages with few benefits, maltreatment, and nine to ten months of separation from their families. All this causes mental stress prompting ill health and even suicide. There is also the threat of piracy and storms. There was a case of a sailor washed overboard and ship officials tried to establish it as a suicide to avoid the family’s insurance claim. The Mission provided legal assistance in this case to successfully gain the insurance for the family involved. There is a log book from the early 1900s at the Mission with the names of sailors who have died in the Vancouver area.

Meanwhile the very existence of the Mission’s building is being threatened with the expansion of POV’s Centerm Terminal. This is a 72-acre full-service container terminal operated by DP World Vancouver (DP), a Dubai-based company which leases it from POV. 90% of all consumer goods worldwide arrive by ship from other countries. At POV, DP handles approximately one-fifth of arriving goods. Considering the enormous amount of goods handled and the $9 billion annually in output POV generates for the Canadian economy, port expansion will trump other concerns like the integrity of the Mission to Seafarers.

DP already has plans to place generators in the park on the north side of the building just feet away from the Mission. There is a sculpture in the park composed of 3 stones by Gerhard Class commissioned by the Vancouver Historical Society (VHS) in 1966 that commemorates the 100th anniversary of the building of Hastings Mill. The sculpture will have to be relocated and maple trees will have to be cut down. First Nations call the site Kumkumalay – big maple trees. Although this is a historic site, the City of Vancouver does not have the final say here as POV is federally controlled.

The POV expansion may further limit access with ID check requirements. According to the VHS, the Mission at one time served up to 24,000 mariners a year; last year, with limited access and fewer crew members due to technology, only 3,500 mariners visited.

The Mission relies on all its work from charitable donations. Managed by the compassionate Kathryn Murray, there are seven paid staff members as well as volunteers. The Mission logo contains the image of a flying angel, hence Flying Angels Club is an alternate name. It’s inspired from Revelations, 14:6 which reads: Then I saw another angel flying high in the air with an eternal message of good news to announce to the peoples of the earth; to every race, tribe, language and nation.

It’s open to visitors.