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New station will help seafarers in Oshawa

By Stuart Mann

The Rev. Judith Alltree can’t wait to board the first freighter that comes into the Port of Oshawa this spring and welcome the crew. “When they say, ‘Where is the Seafarers’ Club?’ I’ll be able to point up the street and say, ‘You’re five minutes away.’ They’ll be absolutely thrilled.”

The Rev. Judith Alltree on the Stephen B. Roman, a lake freighter docked in Toronto. Photos by Michael Hudson

Thanks to a generous grant, the Mission to Seafarers Southern Ontario is installing its first station in the Port of Oshawa. Ms. Alltree, executive director of the mission, hopes to have the building up and running when the shipping season begins in late March.

Ms. Alltree, a priest of the diocese, says the station will make an enormous difference in the lives of the seafarers. The Port of Oshawa is one of the fastest growing shipping terminals on Lake Ontario, with about 150 freighters from all over the world docking from late March to December.

In previous years, seafarers coming off the ships would ask where the nearest “Seaman’s Club” was – their nickname for Mission to Seafarers stations around the world – and were disappointed to learn it was 65 km away in Toronto. “They’d look at me like I’d lost my mind,” says Ms. Alltree.

With the help of volunteers, Ms. Alltree would arrange to drive the men to the nearest mall in Oshawa, about a 10-minute drive away. If a ride wasn’t available, they’d have an expensive taxi ride ahead of them.

These on-shore visits are crucial, she says, because the men are desperate to talk to their families after weeks at sea. “The first thing they want is WiFi. They’ve been on a journey across the Atlantic or up the coast and they want to get in touch with their families. They need to hear their wives’ or their girlfriends’ or their mothers’ voices.” The station will be the only place in the port where the seafarers are provided with free WiFi.

This used construction trailer will be fixed up to become a station for seafarers in the Port of Oshawa.

The mission tried to provide free mobile WiFi in the port but it was too expensive. As the number of seafarers arriving in Oshawa increased over the years – more than 3,000 arrived last year – it became clear that a more permanent solution was needed.

The situation took a turn for the better last year when the mission received a £10,000 grant from Seafarers UK, an organization that supports missions to seafarers in Commonwealth countries. The mission used the money to buy a used Miller construction trailer, which it transported from Burlington to the Port of Oshawa.

Ms. Alltree admits that the trailer needs to be fixed up. It needs new doors, floors, walls and windows. It also needs to be hooked up to hydro. But she’s thrilled that at long last there will be a station for the seafarers.

“This way, they can walk from the foot of the gangway to the station in five minutes and we’ll have the coffee on and a WiFi code for them. They can sit down in an easy chair and put their feet up. We might even be able to get a big-screen TV. They’ll have place to get away from the ship, especially the noise.”

Ms. Alltree is looking for local volunteers to help out. The job includes staffing the station and going on the ships to welcome the crews. Ideally, volunteers would be able to commit to two to six hours a week. Training will be provided. “Going on board the ship is a huge thrill,” she says. “I never get tired of it.”

A freighter docked in a port on Lake Ontario.

The Mission to Seafarers Southern Ontario has two other stations, in the ports of Toronto and Hamilton. It is part of the Canadian branch of the worldwide Missions to Seafarers, founded in 1856 as an Anglican outreach ministry.

Ms. Alltree says the support from parishes and individuals over the years has been remarkable.  “We’re incredibly grateful for the amount of support that we continue to receive from so many churches in the Diocese of Toronto. Every dime of their support is vital to us. From small churches to big churches – it is astonishing who still remembers us.”

For more information about the station in the Port of Oshawa or the work of the Mission to Seafarers Southern Ontario, contact Ms. Alltree at