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Manitoba History: Titanic - The Manitoba Story

by Michael Dupuis
Victoria, British Columbia

Number 69, Summer 2012

The 100th anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic took place on 14 April 2012. As a result of meticulous research for Titanic: The Canadian Story in 1998, author and journalist Alan Hustak established that 130 Canada-bound passengers and crew were on board the ill-fated White Star liner and only 48 survived. Not as well known is that among the 130, the largest contingent—30 men, women and children—had a Manitoba connection. This article examines the fate of these first-, second-, and third-class passengers as well as the role played by Arthur Ford of the Winnipeg Telegram and Herbert Chisholm of the Manitoba Free Press in reporting the “story of the century” from New York City.

Thanks to wireless telegraphy, in the early hours of 15 April 1912 the world learned the catastrophic news that the White Star’s giant luxury liner Titanic had struck an iceberg on its maiden trans-Atlantic voyage and in less than three hours plunged bow-first to a dark and watery grave. After the Cunard liner Carpathia had raced 93 kilometres in a sea dotted with icebergs and rescued Titanic’s survivors, subsequent Marconigrams were just as calamitous: less than one-third of the doomed ship’s 2,223 passengers and crew were still alive.

Questions soon arose on both sides of the Atlantic. How was it possible for the “unsinkable” Titanic to founder? Why had only 706 people been saved given the ship’s lifeboat capacity for 1,178? Had any of the famous and wealthy American passengers such as multi-millionaire John Jacob Astor, Macy’s owner Isidor Strauss, industrialist Benjamin Guggenheim, and Denver socialite and millionairess Molly Brown perished? For Canadians, what was the fate of railway magnate and CPR President Charles Hays, wealthy Harry Markland Molson of Montreal, Toronto industrialist, military man and yachtsman Major Arthur Peuchen, and Winnipeg millionaire Mark Fortune? [1]

These and other questions surrounding the wreck and rescue of the Titanic would take several agonising days to answer with absolute certainty because the Carpathia was not expected to arrive in New York City until the evening of 18 April. Meanwhile, a press firestorm erupted and over 500 journalists, newspapermen and women, reporters, wire service correspondents, stingers, special writers, telegraph operators and artists began to descend on the east coast metropolis to cover the “story of the century.” Among the more than twenty Canadian news correspondents sent to New York to cover the Carpathia’s arrival were 26-year-old Arthur Ford of the Winnipeg Telegram, and 30-year-old Herbert Chisholm of the Manitoba Free Press. [2]

When the Titanic story broke on 15 April, both Ford and Chisholm were in Ottawa on assignment as Press Gallery reporters. Ford had joined the Telegram in 1911 and was immediately sent to the nation’s capital as the paper’s parliamentary correspondent. He would later write for the Ottawa Journal, the short-lived Toronto Times and the London Free Press, eventually becoming the London paper’s managing editor, editor-in-chief and editor emeritus. During 60 years in journalism, Ford was a confidant of Prime ministers Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Sir Robert Borden, Arthur Meighen, R. B. Bennett and Mackenzie King. Herbert Eustace Maxwell Chisholm was a Scot who came to Canada as a child. He learned journalism under Manitoba Free Press editor John W. Dafoe. The “able but erratic” Chisholm rose in the ranks of the Free Press to become city editor and later the paper’s Ottawa correspondent. [3] In 1926 Chisholm transferred to the federal government’s Department of Trade and Commerce, and from 1940–1945 was the Director of Publicity. Ford and Chisholm were “close friends but keen rivals, carrying on in Ottawa the traditions of competition of the Winnipeg field.” [4]

Since the Titanic story was so sensational, it was essential for the Telegram and Free Press to provide comprehensive reporting of the event. However, coverage of the disaster was equally newsworthy because several prominent Winnipeggers were on the ill-fated liner. Among the first-class voyagers were millionaire Mark Fortune, wife Mary, son Charles, and daughters Ethel, Alice and Mabel. Mr. Fortune was a self-made man who had amassed his money in real estate speculation, buying and selling property in Winnipeg many years before the city became the Chicago of the North. The Fortunes occupied adjoining Upper Deck compartments C23/25/27. The total cost for these staterooms was £263—about $18,000 in today’s money.

The grand two-storey home at 393 Wellington Crescent in Winnipeg was built in 1911 for Titanic victim Mark Fortune. The remaining Fortune family members returned to Winnipeg after the disaster and lived there until 1920.
Source: Gordon Goldsborough

Also travelling first class were three prosperous bachelors with a Winnipeg connection: realtor Thomson Beattie, Union Bank manager Thomas McCaffry, and land merchant John Hugo Ross. Beattie had moved to Winnipeg in 1896. Several years later, he partnered with future mayor Richard Waugh to open the Haslam Land Company. Thomas McCaffry began his career with the Union Bank in Trois-Rivières, Quebec. He was eventually transferred to a branch in Neepawa, Manitoba, and then in 1897 to Winnipeg. McCaffry moved to the West coast in 1902 to become manager of the Dominion Assay office, but in 1907 returned to the Union Bank as manager of the newly opened Vancouver branch. John Hugo Ross moved to Winnipeg with his parents in 1877. After graduating from Upper Canada College, he returned to Winnipeg In 1894. He established the Hugo Ross Realty Company, and in 1903 helped to found the Winnipeg Real Estate Board. Towards the end of his European holiday with McCaffry and Beattie, Ross fell ill with dysentery. As a result, he had to be carried on board the Titanic on a stretcher when passengers embarked in Southampton. Although Ross remained in his room on A Deck throughout the voyage, he had frequent visits from the Fortune sisters, Beattie, McCaffry and Major Peuchen.

Other first-class passengers with a Winnipeg connection were John James Borebank, George Graham, Austen Partner, Albert Dick, and Hudson Allison. Borebank had moved to Winnipeg from Toronto in 1896. He became a successful real estate agent and remained in the city for 14 years. George Graham was the manager of hardware and crockery for Eaton’s Winnipeg store. He had been transferred from Toronto to the Manitoba capital in 1906 to head up the new store’s crockery and fine china division. Graham was returning from a spring buying trip in Europe. Austen Partner was an English stockbroker en route to Winnipeg via Toronto. An authority on Canadian investment and securities, Partner was on his seventeenth annual visit to Canada. Albert Dick was a successful building contractor who had been born in Winnipeg but had spent most of his life in Calgary. He and his 17-year-old bride Vera were returning from a belated honeymoon in the Holy Land and Europe. Ironically, they had been married on 31 May 1911—the day the Titanic had been launched.

Although generally described as a Winnipegger, real estate agent John James “Jack” Borebank (1870–1912) had been living in Toronto for over a year by the time of the Titanic sinking.
Source: Manitobans As We See 'Em, 1908-1909

Hudson Allison began his business career with a brokerage firm in Montreal. Later he worked for Sun Life and New York Life insurance companies and was sent to Winnipeg to open up an office. He lived two years in the Manitoba capital and during this time became acquainted with Mark Fortune and Thomson Beattie. After Allison married Bessie Daniels of Boston in 1907, he returned to Montreal to continue work as a stockbroker. Hudson and Bessie booked three cabins on the Titanic: one for themselves, a second for nursemaid Sarah Daniels and three-year-old Lorraine Allison, and a third for nursemaid Alice Cleaver and eleven-month-old Trevor Allison.

Second-class passengers with a Manitoba connection were Charles Sedgwick, brothers Stanley, Leonard and Lewis Hickman, Charles Davies, Percy Deacon, William Dibden, and Benjamin Hart, his wife and young daughter. 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 to Mexico and send for his wife and nephew when it was safe. Eventually Radcliffe became the purser on Titanic’s sister ship Olympic, and in the mid-1920s came to Winnipeg and raised a family in Crescentwood.

Leonard Hickman had emigrated to Neepawa, Manitoba in 1908 and found work as a farm hand in Eden. In early 1912, he returned to England and persuaded his entire family of eleven to return with him to Manitoba. However, due to a coal strike only two of his brothers—Lewis and Stanley—were able to book passage on the Titanic. Leonard was returning to Eden and Lewis and Stanley were headed for The Pas. On the same second-class ticket with the Hickman brothers were Charles Davies, Percy Deacon and William Dibden—all headed for Eden. Benjamin Hart was an English builder emigrating to Canada to open a hardware store in Winnipeg. He was accompanied by his wife Esther and seven-year-old daughter Eva.

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. He was married to Alfrida and they had five children between the ages of two and twelve. Although financially secure, Johan was persuaded to emigrate to Canada by his wife’s sister, Anna, who lived in Sturgeon Creek, St. James, Winnipeg. The entire Andersson family boarded the Titanic.

As the rescue ship, Carpathia steamed along the eastern seaboard of the United States towards New York City on 18 April, Manitoba Free Press reporter Herbert Chisholm was also on his way to New York. Early in the day, he had received instructions from his superiors in Winnipeg to secretly board the next New York-bound train. He had done so leaving Ottawa’s Union Station on an afternoon express. Upon reaching the east-coast metropolis, his plan was to go to Chelsea Pier 54 in Lower Manhattan where the Carpathia was expected to dock that evening at 9 o’clock. There Chisholm hoped to learn the fate of several distinguished Winnipeggers who were first-class passengers on the Titanic.

Meanwhile, soon after Chisholm’s departure from Ottawa, Winnipeg Telegram reporter Arthur Ford discovered from a Press Gallery colleague in the Russell House Hotel that his close friend and rival’ was on his way to New York. “You and your paper are going to be beautifully scooped,” his fellow journalist, remarked casually. [5] Ford immediately contacted Telegram editor and president Mark Nichols in Winnipeg asking for funds to be wired ahead to New York. Then he rushed to Union Station, caught the 5-o’clock “Soo” train to Montreal, and from there connected to a New York-bound night train. Unfortunately, he arrived in New York too late to cover the Carpathia’s landing, so he went to the Murray Hotel where “$100 had been wired me for expenses,” and then to the New York Times. [6] With the help of the paper’s managing editor Carr Van Anda, Ford located members of the Fortune family at the Belmont Hotel.

Before the Carpathia docked, Chisholm had managed to wire a brief story to the Free Press. Headlined “New Yorkers Awaited In Great Suspense,” his lead summarized the general feeling in the city about the rescue liner’s impending arrival. “Horror has gripped New York,” he observed, and “the opinion is that it will be a hospital ship which will dock tonight.” [7] Through the courtesy of the New York Herald, Chisholm was “attached to the staff of the New York daily and given an entry to the dock at which the Carpathia landed. [8] However, even though he was present when Titanic’s survivors disembarked the Cunard liner, there was so much confusion that Chisholm could not learn the fate of the Winnipeg passengers other than Mrs. Fortune and her three daughters were safely at the Belmont Hotel.

What happened next was serendipitous for both Chisholm and Ford. At 11 o’clock, Ford was on his way to the Belmont to find and interview the Fortune women. “I was hurrying down 42nd Street to the Belmont,” recalled Ford, “when of all people I ran plump into Chisholm. He was the most astounded man in the world. We started a play of wits, and finally Chisholm said: “Arthur, what is the use of cutting each other’s throats. Let us work together.” [9] Ford agreed and for two days they worked in partnership giving their papers “information Winnipeg particularly desired. [10]

On 19 April, Ford wired three dispatches to the Telegram. In the first, headlined “Winnipeg Men, It Is Now Certain, Went To Death When The Riven Titanic Took Its Dreadful Plunge,” Ford confirmed that Mark and Charles Fortune, James Borebank, George Graham, Thomson Beattie, and Hugo Ross were lost when the Titanic sank. According to the story, “Mrs. Fortune and the girls parted company with Mr. Fortune and Charles when they took the lifeboat while they were speaking to Thomson Beattie after the collision, and he left them to go and dress Hugo Ross who was ill. [11] Ford also reported that “the only others from the Prairie Provinces were Mr. and Mrs. A. A. Dick of Calgary, who were among the rescued. [12]

In the second dispatch, “Moving Story Of Disaster Told By Fortune Family,” Ford reported details of the disaster provided by Charles Allen, Alice Fortune’s fiancé. In doing so, Allen and Ford, perhaps unwittingly, contributed to the Titanic’s mythology. First, Allen mentioned the Fortune women praising the sinking ship’s bandsmen who were “wonderfully heroic, they never flinched, thought nothing of self and played until the last piece, the Christian hymn “Nearer Thy God To Thee.” [13] There is still debate as to whether the final song played by the Titanic’s band members was “Nearer, My God, To Thee” or “Autumn.”

Second, Allen supplied details from the Fortune women about what would later become the legend of the man dressed as a woman. Allen told Ford that “among the hundreds of cases of heroism, one story of a dastardly coward is told by the Misses Fortune. A man put on a woman’s coat and donned a veil, and in this way succeeded in getting into their life boat. They did not know his name. [14] In the aftermath of the disaster three male survivors, William Sloper, Bishop Dickinson and William Carter (four if one counts Calgarian Albert Dick), were victimized by this rumour. While it is certain that the Titanic’s lifeboats held a boy in a woman’s hat and a young man in a woman’s shawl (both items were placed on their heads by others), the identity of the man who allegedly escaped by cross-dressing remains a mystery.

Ford’s third dispatch, headlined “Maid Who Saved Allison Baby Tells How Family Were Left On The Titanic,” reported the loss of Hudson, Bess and Lorraine Allison, and the rescue of baby Trevor. The details were provided by nursemaids Sarah Daniels and Alice Cleaver and given to Ford in an interview by J. Wesley Allison, Hudson’s uncle. Unknown to Hudson and Bess, after the Titanic collided with the iceberg, Alice Cleaver took Trevor and boarded a lifeboat. Meanwhile, Hudson grabbed up Lorraine and Bess went to look for Trevor. She could not find Trevor and would not leave the ship without him. In the end, Hudson, Bess and Lorraine perished when the Titanic sank.

Chisholm also scored for the Free Press. In a 19 April story headlined “Calgary Man Was Pushed Into Boat,” he provided an interview with newlyweds Albert and Vera Dick of Calgary in their Belmont Hotel room. Mr. Dick described how, when the Titanic struck the iceberg, “the shock was not very great. It was a sort of grinding with a noise like low thunder.” [15] ‘Bert’ Dick then explained how he and Vera eventually left their room and went to the upper deck “and we met Mr. Andrews, the designer of the ship… He told us to go down to our cabins and get our life belts on. [16] Eventually they lined up to board one of the life boats. “Our boat was the sixth, and there were few women by the rail, which was lowered away. Mrs. Dick came forward, and they started pulling her to the boat and away from me. She did not want to go without me, but I took her to the rail and kissed her goodbye. Then an officer shoved me on board, and we were lowered away.” [17] Although Albert Dick’s recounting of events surrounding his departure from the ship was accurate, upon returning to Calgary he was considered a coward because he had survived and many women and children hadn’t. Furthermore, his reputation was sullied by the rumour that he had dressed as a woman to board one of the life boats.

What neither Ford nor Chisholm reported was the fate of the second- and third-class passengers with a Manitoba connection. Charles Sedgwick died when the Titanic foundered. His body was never recovered. The Hickman brothers and their friends Charles Davies, Percy Deacon and William Dibden also perished. Only the body of Lewis was recovered (by the Mackay-Bennett) and returned for burial in Riverside Cemetery in Neepawa. [18] Benjamin Hart died in the sinking and his body was also never recovered. Both Esther and Eva Hart survived with Eva eventually writing memoirs of her experiences and becoming one of the most famous of the Titanic survivors. According to Hustak, “She didn’t get to Winnipeg, where she was bound as a child, until 1980, where she visited as a delegate to a convention.” [19] None of the bodies of the seven-member Andersson family were recovered. [20] As a postscript to their tragic story; on 20 April, the Free Press published a large photograph of Mr. and Mrs. Andersson and their five children. [21]

The bodies of Mark and Charles Fortune, Hugo Ross and James Borebank were never recovered. All either drowned or froze to death in the North Atlantic’s minus 1ᵒC water. The bodies of both Thomas McCaffry and George Graham were recovered by the Mackay-Bennett. When taken from the water, McCaffry’s body was identified by the monogram “T. C. Mc.” embroidered on his underwear. [22] He was buried in the Notre Dame des Neiges Cemetery in Montreal, Quebec. Graham’s final resting place was the Harriston Cemetery in St. Mary’s, Ontario. In Graham’s memory, the Union Bank paid for a large granite tombstone. As for Thomson Beattie, a month after the disaster occurred, the liner Oceanic recovered his badly decomposed body in Titanic’s drifting Collapsible A Englehart raft. [23] Beattie was buried at sea and is remembered on a stone in the family plot in Fergus, Ontario. Hudson Allison’s body was recovered by the Mackay-Bennett and was laid to rest in Maple Ridge Cemetery in Chesterville, Ontario. [24]

What was the response in Winnipeg to the deaths of so many prominent citizens? On 17 April, flags flew at half-mast from civic buildings, and on 19 April, Eaton’s closed its store at 1 p.m. to honour George Graham. [25] Three days later, Winnipeg city council voted to erect a memorial plaque to six of the victims. Located in 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. It is also possible that streets were named after several of the victims mentioned in the memorial plaque. [26] In addition, the Fortune family donated the chimes in Knox United Church in memory of Mark and Charles. Finally, on 5 May the orchestra from the Royal Alexandra Hotel and the Winnipeg City Band gave a concert at the Walker Theatre to raise funds for the families of the Titanic’s bandsmen “who did so much to allay the fears of the survivors and make the last moments of the victims sweeter.” [27]

A plaque in the Winnipeg City Hall commemorates six local men who died during the sinking of the RMS Titanic on 15 April 1912: Thomson Beattie, J. J. Borebank, Charles A. Fortune, Mark Fortune, George E. Graham, and John H. Ross.
Source: Brian Hubner

As for reporters Ford and Chisholm, Ford recalled in his memoirs that after their final dispatches were wired to Winnipeg they “then took another day off to see the sights of New York with the little money we had left, before returning to Ottawa satisfied that we had the opportunity of covering one of the greatest stories of all time. [28]

Notes

1. It can be argued that there is one more Manitoban with a direct connection to the Titanic. Two days after the liner foundered, the Toronto World reported that J. P. Alexander, former Manitoba MLA and registrar of the Boissevain Land Titles Office, dropped dead of a heart attack when he heard the news of the disaster. According to Titanic researcher Alan Hustak, confirmation of the death of his friend Hugo Ross contributed to Alexander’s death which occurred after he sat in a barber’s chair (Titanic: The Canadian Story, p. 117).

2. The other reporters represented daily papers in Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal. Among these correspondents, Grattan O’Leary (Ottawa Journal), Harry Hindmarsh (Toronto Daily Star), Mary Dawson Snider (Toronto Evening Telegram), and George Macdonald (Canadian Press) would go on to distinguished careers in journalism. However, none would ever again report a story of such interest and magnitude.

3. Cited in O. Mary Hill, Canada’s Salesman to the World: The Department of Trade and Commerce, 1892–1939, p. 349.

4. Arthur Ford, As The World Wags On, p. 78.

5. Ford, As The World, p. 77.

6. Ford, As The World, p. 78. In a Winnipeg Telegram story published 19 April and headlined “Reaches New York In Drizzly Rain,” mention is made of a Winnipeg Telegram reporter who boarded the tugboat H. O. Raymond in New York City’s harbour and made contact by megaphone with Titanic survivors on the Carpathia as it neared Battery Park. Since Ford arrived too late in New York to meet the Carpathia, the Winnipeg Telegram reporter must have been a freelance journalist or stringer employed by the Telegram to cover the ship’s arrival.

7. Manitoba Free Press, 19 April 1912.

8. Manitoba Free Press, 22 April 1912.

9. Ford, As The World, p. 79.

10. Ford, As The World, p. 80.

11. Winnipeg Telegram, 20 April 1912.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid. In an interview with Chisholm on the same day, Vera Dick also stated that as the lifeboat she was in pulled away from the Titanic, the band was near the rail and playing “Nearer My God To Thee.” Manitoba Free Press, 20 April 1912.

14. Winnipeg Telegram, 20 April 1912. The Fortune women were in Lifeboat 11.

15. Manitoba Free Press, 20 April 1912.

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid.

18. The cable ship Mackay-Bennett was one of four vessels chartered by the White Star Line to search for bodies from the Titanic. The recovery ship sailed from Halifax on 17 April and returned on 30 April. Her crew eventually recovered 306 bodies and buried 116 at sea.

19. Hustak, Titanic, p. 151.

20. Another family with a Canadian connection suffered an even greater loss. Sometime after 1900 Englishman John Sage and his son George came to Canada where they worked as dining-car attendants for the Canadian Pacific Railway. In 1911, John Sage deposited money on a citrus farm in Jacksonville, Florida and sent George ahead to manage the property. Meanwhile John returned to England and booked third-class passage on the Titanic for his wife Annie and their seven remaining children: their destination was Florida. All nine members of the Sage family were lost in the Titanic disaster, and only the body of 13-year-old William was recovered.

21. Between 16 and 20 April, the Free Press published photos of the Fortune family members (both saved and lost), Ross, Beattie, Borebank, Graham, McCaffry, and Albert and Vera Dick. The Winnipeg Telegram published photographs of Fortune and Ross on 16 April, and the next day of Beattie. Also, on 19 April the Telegram featured a photo gallery of the six members of the Fortune family who had been on board the Titanic. To emphasize their wealth and status, the Telegram included in the gallery a photograph of the Fortunes’ 36-room, Tudor-style Crescentwood mansion.

22. Lanny Boutin, Titanic: The Canadian Connection, p. 106.

23. There is good evidence that Beattie died within hours of the White Star liner’s sinking. Titanic’s fifth officer Harold Lowe was in charge of Lifeboat 14, and after the ship foundered he was the only officer who returned to pick up survivors. According to Hustak, Lowe spotted survivors in Collapsible A and rescued them. However, he left the bodies of three dead men including Thomson Beattie in Collapsible A and then set it adrift. Beattie’s death from exposure was described in detail by Ole Abelseth, a 26-year-old Norwegian who was with Beattie in Collapsible A before Lowe arrived. (Hustak, Titanic, pp. 108-109) Beattie was identified by his watch, papers in his overcoat, and labels on his clothing, which showed his name and that of the dealer. See Boutin, Titanic: The Canadian Connection, p. 123.

24. The bodies of Bess and Lorraine Allison were never found. Trevor Allison was raised by his aunt and uncle. He died at 18 in Maine from ptomaine poisoning and was buried next to his father in Chesterville.

25. Boutin, Titanic: The Canadian Connection, p. 110.

26. Hustak (Titanic, p. 139) claimed that “streets were named after each of the dead men” but this is misleading. Fortune Street was named after Mark (and possibly Charles) Fortune, Borebank Street after James Borebank, and Hugo Street after Hugo Ross, but no street was named for Thomson Beattie or George Graham. There is a Graham Avenue bordering the south side of Eaton’s store but it was named thirty years before the Titanic disaster for fur trader James Allan Graham. Museum curator Sharon Reilly has suggested that Fortune, Borebank and Hugo streets were named before the Titanic disaster because these three men were involved in Winnipeg real estate. See “Tied to the Titanic” (Winnipeg Free Press, 12 February 2011). In support of Reilly’s suggestion, at least for Hugo Ross, city records indicate Hugo Street was created before 1908.

27. Cited in Jim Blanchard, Winnipeg 1912, p. 98.

28. Ford, As The World, p. 80.

Page revised: 13 January 2017

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