Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Titanic -- The Manitoba connection

There were 30 men, women and children with local ties aboard the ill-fated liner

  • Print

Just before 11:40 p.m. on April 14, 1912, lookout Frederick Fleet saw a menacing black shape loom less than 500 metres ahead of the speeding Titanic.

Instantly, he rang the black bell in the crow's nest, then lifted the telephone to the bridge.

"Iceberg dead ahead!" he shouted. Sadly, the Titanic could not turn quickly enough and the massive berg gouged the first 100 metres of the ship's starboard hull.

The moment this happened, she was doomed.

Two hours and 40 minutes later, the Titanic climaxed a night filled with mounting terror by breaking in two and minutes later plunging bow-first to a dark and watery grave. Only 706 of the "unsinkable" ship's 2,223 passengers were loaded into lifeboats and rescued several hours later by the Cunard liner Carpathia.

Thanks to journalist Alan Hustak, author of Titanic, The Canadian Story, we know there were 130 Canada-bound passengers on the ill-fated White Star liner. Not so well-known, however, is that 30 of these men, women and children had a Manitoba connection. Who were they? What was their connection? And what was their fate?

The first-class passengers

Almost half the 30 passengers were travelling first-class. The wealthiest was appropriately named Mark Fortune. Like many of Winnipeg's new millionaires, Fortune was a self-made man, having amassed his wealth in real estate speculation several years before the city became the Chicago of the North.

One had only to look at the family's new 36-room Tudor-style mansion in Crescentwood to gauge the Fortunes' affluence. Accompanying him on the Titanic was his wife Mary, teenage son Charles and adult daughters Mabel, Ethel and Alice.

Also on first-class tickets were three prosperous Winnipeg bachelors: realtor Thomson Beattie, Union Bank president Thomas McCaffry and land merchant John Hugo Ross. Avoiding the city's long, cold winter, the Winnipeg Musketeers, as they were nicknamed, frequently travelled together abroad. In April 1912, the trio was returning from an extended European holiday. However, near the end of the trip, Ross became ill with dysentery and boarded the Titanic in Southampton on a stretcher.

The remaining first-class passengers were real estate agent John J. Borebank, Eaton's hardware manager George Graham, Montreal stockbroker Hudson Allison, Calgary building contractor Albert Dick and English stockbroker Austen Partner.

Besides Partner, who was on his 17th annual visit to Western Canada, the others had either been born in or lived in Winnipeg for several years. Albert Dick was travelling with his 17-year-old bride Vera and returning from a belated honeymoon in the Holy Land and Europe. Coincidentally, they had been married on May 31, 1911 -- the day the Titanic was launched.

 

The second-class passengers

The second-class passengers were Charles Sedgwick, brothers Stanley, Leonard and Lewis Hickman, friends Charles Davies, Percy Deacon and William Dibden, and the Hart family, Benjamin, Esther and young daughter Eva.

Sedgwick was an English electrical engineer en route to Veracruz, Mexico via New York City. Originally, he was to be accompanied on the Titanic by his new bride, Adelaide, and their 11-year-old nephew, Leslie Radcliffe. However, due to the violence surrounding the Mexican Revolution, Charles decided to go alone and send later for Adelaide and Leslie. Ironically, Leslie became the purser on the Titanic's sister ship the Olympic, and in the 1920s came to Winnipeg and raised a family in Crescentwood.

Leonard Hickman was a farmhand in Eden, Man., who had returned to Fritham, Hampshire, England in Christmas 1911 and persuaded his brothers, Stanley and Lewis, to join him in Canada. While Leonard was planning to return to Eden, Stanley and Lewis had decided on The Pas.

On the same second-class ticket as the Hickmans and also headed for Eden were countrymen Charles Davies, Percy Deacon and William Dibden. Englishman Benjamin Hart was moving to Canada with his family to open a hardware store in Winnipeg.

 

The third-class passengers

The only third-class or steerage passengers with a Manitoba connection were seven members of the Andersson family. Johan Anders Andersson worked as a farmer in Kia, Ostergotland, Sweden, and although financially secure, had decided to take his wife Alfrida and their five children to Canada. His plan was to stay with Alfrida's sister, Anna, and her husband, Ernst Danbom, who lived near Winnipeg.

 

Survivors and victims

When the Titanic's captain, Edward Smith, ordered the lifeboats filled with women and children first, he sealed the fate of all but one of the male passengers with a Manitoba connection.

While Mary Fortune and her three daughters were placed in a lifeboat -- and later rescued by the Cunard liner Carpathia -- Mark and Charles were denied this opportunity and either drowned or froze to death in the -1 C water.

Their bodies, as well as those of John Borebank and Hugo Ross, were never recovered.

The cable ship Mackay-Bennett did find the bodies of Hudson Allison, George Graham and Thomas McCaffry, with the latter identified by the monogram "T.C.MC." on his underwear. Allison's body was laid to rest in Chesterville, Ont., Graham's in St. Marys, Ont. and McCaffry's in Montreal.

As for Thomson Beattie, a month after the disaster, his badly decomposed corpse was discovered in one of the Titanic's collapsible rafts by the liner Oceanic. His body was buried at sea and he is remembered on a stone in the family plot in Fergus, Ont.

The only first-class male to survive was Albert Dick. Thanks to his bride's stubbornness, he was allowed into a lifeboat and rescued by the Carpathia.

What of the fate of the second- and third-class passengers?

Charles Sedgwick, the Hickman brothers and their English compatriots Davies, Deacon and Dibden all died; only the body of Lewis Hickman was recovered and returned for burial in Riverside Cemetery in Neepawa.

Benjamin Hart died, but Esther and Eva survived, with Eva later writing memoirs of her Titanic experience and becoming one of the most famous survivors.

In 1980, 68 years after she was to have arrived in Winnipeg, Eva visited Winnipeg as a delegate to a convention.

Tragically, the entire seven-member Andersson family drowned.

 

Responding to the disaster

What was the response in Manitoba to the deaths of so many citizens?

Between April 16 and 20 both the Manitoba Free Press and rival Winnipeg Telegram ran stories from its reporters in New York about the fate of the first-class passengers.

The papers also published photos of several survivors and victims, with the Telegram including a picture of the Fortunes' mansion at 393 Wellington Cres., and the Free Press countering with a picture of all seven victims of the Andersson family.

On April 17, flags flew at half-mast over most civic buildings, and two days later, Eaton's closed its store at one p.m. to honour George Graham.

On April 24, Winnipeg city council voted to erect a memorial plaque to six of the victims. Currently located in Winnipeg City Hall, it reads:

"Erected by the People of Winnipeg in memory of Mark Fortune, John Hugo Ross, Thomson Beattie, Charles A. Fortune, George E. Graham, J. J. Borebank. They with 1,484 others died when the S.S. Titanic foundered in the mid-Atlantic, April 15, 1912. They died that women and children may live."

In memory of Mark and Charles, the Fortune family donated chimes to Knox United Church on Edmonton Street.

Finally, on May 5, the Royal Alexandra orchestra and the Winnipeg City Band gave a concert at the Walker Theatre to raise funds for the families of the Titanic's heroic seven bandsmen and their leader Wallace Hartley.

Though Fortune, Borebank and Hugo streets in Winnipeg bear the names of three men who died in the Titanic disaster, it is most likely the streets were already named prior to 1912. However, Carpathia Street in River Heights was named in 1913 after the Cunard liner that rescued more than 700 Titanic passengers and crew.

On Nov. 16, 1912, a final memoriam occurred in the city. In honour of Mark Fortune, John Hugo Ross and Thomson Beattie, the Winnipeg Real Estate Exchange furnished a 16-bed ward, fittingly called the Titanic Ward, in the Children's Hospital on Aberdeen Street.

A plaque, which is currently in the hospital's museum, was also erected. It reads:

"In Memorial, Mark Fortune, John Hugo Ross, Thomson Beattie, who perished on the 15th day of April A.D. 1912 when the Titanic foundered at sea. To the heroic and inspiring memory, their fellow members of the Real Estate Exchange have furnished this ward and erected this tablet.

"Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends."

As a postscript, perhaps the most peculiar post-disaster event in Manitoba and one attributed to the press involved J.P. Alexander, former Manitoba MLA and registrar of the Boissevain land titles office. After seeing both a photograph and death notice of his dear friend John Hugo Ross in the Free Press, Alexander died of a heart attack in a barber's chair.

 

michaeldupuis@shaw.ca

Michael Dupuis is a retired history teacher living in Victoria. He has written about the Titanic for Canadian, British and American publications. His most recent work is Women Reporters And The Titanic Story in The Titanic Commutator and Canadian Journalists in New York in Paul Heyer's Titanic Century Media, Myth, and the Making of a Cultural Icon.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 14, 2012 J1

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

New Pornographers frontman says latest album is band's 'best'

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • JOE BRYKSA/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Local- A large osprey lands in it's nest in a hydro pole on Hyw 59  near the Hillside Beach turnoff turn off. Osprey a large narrow winged hawk which can have a wingspan of over 54 inches are making a incredible recovery since pesticide use of the 1950's and  1960's- For the last two decades these fish hawks have been reappearing in the Lake Winnipeg area- Aug 03, 2005
  • Winnipeg’s best friend the dragon fly takes a break at English Gardens in Assiniboine Park Wednesday- A dragon fly can eat  food equal to its own weight in 30 minutes-Standup photo- June 13, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Should panhandling at intersections be banned?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google