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Titanic -- The Manitoba connection

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

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/4/2012 (1957 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

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.

Johan Andersson was a financially secure farmer in Sweden, but he and his wife Alfrida decided to move with their five children to Winnipeg. The entire family died on the Titanic.

Johan Andersson was a financially secure farmer in Sweden, but he and his wife Alfrida decided to move with their five children to Winnipeg. The entire family died on the Titanic.

Winnipeg's Fortune family (L-R): Ethel, Robert (not on Titanic), Alice, Charles, Mary, Mark, Clara (not on the Titanic)  and Mabel.


Winnipeg's Fortune family (L-R): Ethel, Robert (not on Titanic), Alice, Charles, Mary, Mark, Clara (not on the Titanic) and Mabel.

Hugo Ross (from left), unidentified companion, Thomas McCaffry, Mark Fortune and Thomson Beattie, feed pigeons in St. Mark's Square, Venice, in March 1912 -- a few weeks before the Titanic sailed.


Hugo Ross (from left), unidentified companion, Thomas McCaffry, Mark Fortune and Thomson Beattie, feed pigeons in St. Mark's Square, Venice, in March 1912 -- a few weeks before the Titanic sailed.

Mark Fortune

Mark Fortune

Charles Fortune

Charles Fortune

"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.

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.


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