(published in the Montreal Gazette on December 1, 2012)
St. Michael’s Mission was founded in Montreal in the spring of 1927. This year, in fact, is the 85th anniversary of the opening of its first shelter on Dorchester Street West, where today stands Complexe Desjardins.
Nowadays, the daytime refuge is located in the basement of the Parish Hall of the Anglican Church of St. John the Evangelist on President Kennedy Avenue in the very heart of the Quartier des spectacles. St. John’s (as it is affectionately known to its parishioners) was instrumental in the creation of this innovative safe haven for the homeless and down-and-out.
Even in Victorian times, that identical place of worship was actively involved in the betterment of the affairs of the poor and disadvantaged, particularly under the inspirational leadership of the then – rector and founder, Father Edmund Wood. Later, shortly after World War One, an initial sanctuary, known as the Vitre Street Mission, was brought into being under the auspices of that same spiritual flock.
St. Michael’s Mission, which is open from 8:00 in the morning to shortly after noon Monday to Friday (closed on weekends and major holidays), regularly serves about 200 breakfasts and an equal number of lunches to those impoverished individuals who present themselves at its tables. According to its latest newsletter, 64% of those persons are francophone, 13% anglophone, 9% Spanish – speaking, and 6% Inuktituk speakers. Most are men, although some women do show up from time to time. Many are dealing with very serious addictions – from alcoholism to gambling.
A couple of weeks ago, I visited St. Michael’s Mission and met with its interim director, George Greene and several others who make up his remarkable team. Mr. Greene, who is himself a third generation Anglican, once worked as an executive in the garment industry. It was lunchtime and the somewhat petite hall was chock – full with those seeking sustenance in addition to a well-needed pat on the back. George and the other workers at the busy facility try their best to provide them with both. It is truly a moving experience for an outsider to witness.
Above, St. Michael’s Mission
St. Michael’s Mission is first and foremost recognized as a ‘soup kitchen’ for the needy. It is, however, much more than that. In addition to food, St. Michael’s provides its users with many other benefits including donated clothes and footwear, both so very important, especially during the now all-present cold winter months.
Hot showers are also made available to those who wish to use them. What’s more, counselling is always close at hand as well as a volunteer barber, Dr. Fred Wiegand, who, on Fridays, cuts the hair of the penniless. Regular and much appreciated police visits assure that the overall atmosphere at the shelter is one of general calmness, order and stability for all those present.
The mission has only five paid employees; the rest are unpaid helpers. This provides St. Michael’s with approximately 150 hours a week of unpaid labour, a savings to the sanctuary of about $1800 a week. In a word, the safe haven runs unfailingly day after day on the compassion and hard work of a dedicated crew of exceptional human beings.
More information about St. Michael’s Mission is available at www.stmichaelsmission.com or by telephoning 514-844-8127. The refuge is located at 137 President Kennedy Avenue, Montreal, Quebec H2X 3P6, where always-needed donations, both monetary and assorted supplies, are most welcome.
Above, the good people who work at St. Michael’s Mission