The History of the Mission to Seafarers starts with one man’s vision and culminates amidst the hustle and bustle of over two hundred “Flying Angel Clubs” world wide. It is a fascinating history to explore throughout the world and indeed in the Vancouver Mission.
The Best Kept Secret in the Anglican Church
It was 1835, when the young Anglican priest, Fr.John Ashley, stood on the banks of the Bristol Channel in England gazing out at the many anchored ships. Lighters were plying to and fro the vessels, loading and unloading supplies and cargo. The hundreds of sailors aboard each ship were clearly visible, hauling on lines, carrying heavy loads, climbing in the rigging, patching the sails. And he wondered --- who cared for the spiritual load of these men? who led them in worship? who gave them Communion?
As if exploring a new country, Fr.John Ashley headed out to the vessels, offering to take a Church Service for the sailors. Astonishment quickly turned into eager acceptance --- as Captain after Captain requested him to come aboard, and take Church Services for the men. He was overwhelmed with the needs --- and so when his Bishop offered him a quiet parish in the country, he replied: "I already have my Mission to Seamen".
And so was born a Mission to the seamen of commercial vessels (the British Navy already had chaplains) a Mission that Fr.John Ashley pursued until, broken in health, he had to retire in 1850. But his vision had been contagious. All along the coasts of England, other priests and laity had begun to visit the merchant vessels and to take services aboard, to give counselling and advice, to take Communion, to hear Confessions, to bring Bibles, and other religious material --- to care for and serve the Seafarers of every nation.
In 1855, these Missions were joined together in the "Mission to Seamen", an organization which was carried to every port in the British Empire, and beyond. Today there are over two hundred ports around the world where the Mission is present, serving sailors of all nationalities, and all religions. About 80 of these have full time staff, most are operated ecumenically. The name has been changed to the "Mission to Seafarers" to reflect that women are now serving as officers on board vessels, and that the Mission cares for all ranks and all genders. All were founded and all are owned by the local diocese of the Anglican Church. Though the Senior Port Chaplain is an Anglican priest, Roman Catholic priests, Protestant ministers, or licenced lay visitors are also Chaplains, working together as a Team. Every day, the Chaplains visit ships to care for the seafarers, and serve the workers of the Port. Volunteers, the lifeblood of the Mission, are needed to staff the Flying Angel Club, and continue this vital work.
Little is written about the above picture, the history prior to 1950's is very difficult to trace. Few photos have survived and very little documentation exists. The picture above shows the dignatories opening the "Seamens' Hall" in 1923.
The picture above shows the Mission Building in the 1950's when The Rev. John Leighton was the chaplain (1935 - 1954). The building was located at 1121 West Hastings it was dedicated by Bishop Godfrey Gower before a crowd of 400 people and visiting seamen. A record of the dedication with a CBC commentator is stored at the Anglican archives at VST featuring the dedication by Bishop Gower and the ribbon cutting by a Norwegian Motorman Olav Eliassen. Queen Elizabeth sent along a special greeting. Once a proud mansion it fell into a state of disrepair but after several coats of paint and extensive renovations it was transformed into the new home away from home for the seafarers from around the world.
All of this "caring ministry" has been going on in 300 ports around the world for almost 150 years --- but it is virtually unknown by the majority of the priests and people of the Anglican Church. This does not have to be so. Will you help tell others of this, "the Best Kept Secret of the Anglican Church"? Will you volunteer to help?
The Mission to Seafarers in the Diocese of New Westminster
In 1897, Fr.Clinton, parish priest of St.James' Anglican Church, in downtown Vancouver, founded a "Seamen's Institute" to care for sailors. In 1903, this Institute was joined to the worldwide Mission to Seamen, and was established as a diocesan ministry. Though the location of its building has changed over the years, the ministry has continued unabated. The Mission is now located on the waterfront, in a beautiful and large Heritage House, painted blue, right next to the Centerm docks, at 401 East Waterfront Rd.
The pictures show the waterfront in New Westminster in the early 1900s, it was to this waterfront that Fr. Clinton first carried out his ministry that grew into what we have today. We do not have any pictures of the orginal mission but a stained glass window for the original building is located in the chapel in the present building.
Some of the Senior Port Chaplains at the Mission have been:
- The Reverend John W. Leighton 1935 - 1954
- The Reverend Canon Stanley Smith 1954 - 1975
- The Reverend Joe Parker 1974 - 1993
- The Reverend Fr. Michael Wimmer 1994 - 1998
- The Rev'eren Fr. Stephen Rowe 2000 - 2001
- The Reverend Fr. Ron Barnes 2001 - 2002
- The Reverend Fr. William Pike 2004 - 2006
- The Reverend Nick Parker, 2007 -2015
- The Reverend Peter Smyth- present
Heritage Building History
In 1864 the ‘50 North Dunlevy’, now ‘401 E.Waterfront Rd.’ of today was very near the water’s edge of Burrard Inlet. North-East across the inlet was Moodyville with its adjacent sawmill. To the West, towards the promontory partially guarding the inlet, were the Three Greenhorns with their small clay and coal claim, whilst on the East was a small summer resort called New Brighton, used by New Westminster people.
On November 30, 1865 the English-promoted British Columbia and Vancouver Island Spar Lumber and Sawmill Company received a land grant of 243 acres for about $250 on which they were to build a sawmill. The mill started producing in 1867; however in 1870 it was bought by a San Francisco firm for $20,000 and renamed the Hastings Saw Mill Co, after Rear Admiral Hon. G. F. Hastings, Commander of the Royal Navy base at Esquimalt.
In 1925 when the Vancouver Harbour Commissioners purchased the remaining land — 40 acres with 250 feet of water frontage, for $2,450,000 — the entire area was known as the Hastings Mill. The land west of the mill was surveyed as the town site of Granville in 1870, popularly known as Gastown, the nucleus of the future city of Vancouver.
In 1873 the first public school was opened on Hastings Mill property and the Granville Post Office opened in the Hastings Mill Store. In June 1886 fire swept Vancouver, incorporated in April that year, and although the Mill was saved, many of the houses and outbuildings surrounding the plant were lost. In 1889 the mill was sold and when the new owners merged with the Royal City Planning Mills Co. The new firm was called B. C. Mills Timber and Trading Co. Ltd.
In 1900 this company decided to produce semi-prefabricated houses, schools and churches which they shipped as far as Winnipeg. As samples they built two offices, the first on Carrall Street for the office of their False Creek plant, and in 1906 the office building which is now the Flying Angel Seafarer’s Club. These two buildings were ‘showplaces’, each individual office was paneled out in a different type of B.C. wood — fir, hemlock, red cedar, balsam, etc. — unfortunately all painted over in the nineteen twenties. After the purchase of the mill in 1925, the Vancouver Harbour Commissioners in announcing the move into their new quarters in 1930, stated in their monthly report, “The site on which the offices are located is one of historical value, for around it was built the City of Vancouver.”
- The support beams in the basement are 47 feet (14.326 metres) long — as sound today as when first put into place
- The vault, quite a feature of the building, is shown in the 1906 plans, with an addition built on in 1954 — converted about 1960 to a ‘fall out’ shelter following EMO (Emergency Measures Order) requirements.
- The original brass fireplace, accessories, door, fender and coal tongs are still to be seen today in the small lounge, until 1973 the Port Manager’s office.
- When originally constructed, there was a rather grand port-cochere on the North side of the building which was undoubtedly put there for the use of the senior officials of the company. This was eventually removed, having deteriorated rather badly, to make way for the laying of a small park. The construction of this park was motivated by several considerations not the least of which was the belief that such an addition would not only provide a green space on the waterfront but would also be an additional deterrent to those who might want to raze the whole structure at a future date.
- On the front porch of the building are the letters commemorating the four different owners: BCMTT — B. C. Mills Timber and Trading, HSM — Hastings Saw Mill, VHC — Vancouver Harbour Commissioners, and NHB — National Harbours Board
To these is now added the neon sign of The Mission to Seafarers “Flying Angel Club”, headquarters of the B. C. branches of this world-wide society and the building which, with the warmth, friendliness and personality it has developed during its wonderful life.
The 'sign in' book at the door with its international signatures reveals that the grand old building at 401 Waterfront Road East continues to facilitate the care of seafarers.