For 86-year-old Morris Kaardal, the need for a Seafarers Mission was never more apparent than when he drove a group of seamen back to their container ship at the end of their stay in Prince Rupert.
It was late, cold and raining, and Kaardal, who was not allowed to enter the grain terminal facility, was forced to drop the men off at the gate to make the long walk to their ship.
“Some of the men didn’t have appropriate clothing or jackets,” Kaardal said.
He gave one of the men a jacket before leaving. Since then, the Seafarers Mission in downtown Prince Rupert has a stock of jackets and sweaters waiting for seamen who may need them.
Kaardal has volunteered with the Prince Rupert Seafarers Mission since it began in 2007, earning the nickname “Mr. I’ll do it” for his willingness to do whatever it takes to make a visiting seaman feel at home.
On Sept. 21, Kaardal was given the 2018 Peter G Bernard Volunteer Award by the International Sailors’ Society of Canadian (ISSC) for his efforts.
“He has really been the man that will step up if anyone asks or if there is any need for contributions or any tasks,” said John Norman Craddock, chairman of Lighthouse Harbour Ministries in Prince Rupert. “It meant a great deal to us to see him recognized from a lot of people across the country.”
Born in Strongfield, Saskatchewan, Kaardal moved to Prince Rupert with his family in 1947 when his father, a Norwegian farmer, heard about opportunities in the fishing industry.
“Coming from Saskatchewan, I’d never seen mountains before,” Kaardal said. “Before we even arrived in town, I told my mother I just wanted to get out and see the mountains and the Skeena River.”
Kaardal attended high school in Prince Rupert before graduating and finding work as a salesman and office worker. Eventually, he landed a job at the pulp mill when he was 25, a job he would have for the next 41 years before retiring in 1996.
Kaardal said the idea for a seafarers mission in Prince Rupert first developed at a Gideon meeting nearly 10 years later. Brian Friesen, one of the leaders of the group said that the city needed a place where seamen could feel at home and supported.
“We all felt they needed a place to meet,” said Kaardal. “It must be terrible for them to be bound up to that ship all the time.”
The search immediately began for a building that would be able to accomplish that purpose. The group eventually found a space on Third Avenue in downtown Prince Rupert, and they have operated there ever since.
During those 11 years, Kaardal has been a stalwart presence. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, he drives his van to the port terminals where he picks up groups of seamen and acts as their personal guide while in Prince Rupert.
“We bring them to the mission, set them up with internet and take them shopping if they need it,” he said. “I just help to make them feel at home.”
Sometimes, visitors need food or will ask where to find The Source or Walmart. Kaardal said the most important thing for the seamen is having a way to communicate with their families.
“When we first opened, there was a gentleman who asked for phone cards to call home,” he said. “He talked until it ran out and asked for another one.
“We ordered a bunch of cards after that and [we now] sell them at the desk.”
As time has progressed and technology changed, Kaardal said most of the men will video call their families on their smartphones.
“They show me their families pictures all the time,” he said.
Over the years, Kaardal has noticed an increase in the comfort level of the seamen who visit the mission.
“At first they were reluctant to come in, maybe because of the language barrier or something else, but now they’re just like friends,” he said. “They come and help themselves to coffee and just hang out.”
When asked how long he would continue to serve as a volunteer, Kaardal said the need will always be there and so he’ll continue to serve.
“I’ll do it as long as I can,” he said. “I don’t think God meant for us to stop work. I love going to work and I love what I’m doing.”