The Seaman’s Mission on Prince William Street in Saint John holds local historic significance due to its connections with Lady Alice Tilley and the Seaman’s Institute, as well as its architectural features and restoration as one of the ten buildings that comprise the Prince William Streetscape National Historic Site of Canada.
The Seaman’s Mission is known for serving as a refuge for sailors away from home. Lady Alice Tilley, wife of Sir Leonard Tilley – a Father of Confederation, Premier of New Brunswick, and Lieutenant-governor of New Brunswick – played a crucial role in its establishment.
She founded the non-alcoholic Seaman’s Mission in Saint John to offer sailors an alternative to the city’s bars. The mission provided recreational facilities for seamen arriving at the Port of Saint John from around the world.
Additionally, the Seaman’s Mission offered a space for sailors to write letters to their loved ones and secure comfortable accommodations. Established in 1877, the building served seamen through the Great Depression and both World Wars.
Constructed in 1908 by B. Mooney & Sons and designed by architect G. Ernest Fairweather, the Seaman’s Mission is a three-story brick Italianate building. It underwent significant interior renovations in 1932, transforming it into one of the most modern institutions of its kind on the Atlantic Coast. The building’s layout closely resembled a ship’s deck and deckhouses, featuring a gallery encircling the entire room, an auditorium with a seating capacity of 700, and additional balcony seating. The building had separate entrances for officers and crewmen, as well as exercise facilities and a first-class canteen and kitchen. The Seaman’s Institute relocated to the YMCA building on Hazen Avenue in 1965, and the city of Saint John acquired the Seaman’s Mission in 1976 after it was abandoned for 11 years.
The Seaman’s Mission is also notable for being one of ten buildings owned by the City of Saint John that faced potential demolition. However, a call for proposals in the early 1980s led to the restoration of these ten Prince William Street properties, including the Seaman’s Mission, which eventually became part of Canada’s first National Historic Streetscape.
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