Titanic News in 1912: Winnipeg Stirred by Ocean Tragedy

The shocking news of the Titanic striking an iceberg late at night on Sunday, April 14, 1912, hit the telegraph wires and fed newspaper offices throughout the world. A jumble of facts, speculation, and outright falsehoods moved steadily along the wires.  It was a tragedy of unimaginable proportions.  The world’s largest ship, termed “unsinkable” by the press, was reported to be going down by the head, with nearby ships speeding to the rescue to take the passengers off.

Winnipeg residents learned the shocking news of the Titanic disaster from the local newspapers early on Monday morning, just hours after the great ship struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic on April 14th, 1912.

The Manitoba Free Press, under Editor John Wesley Dafoe, rushed a cautiously worded story out in their Monday morning edition.  By Tuesday, the front page ran screaming headlines. People gathered in droves in front of the newspaper office at Portage and Garry  to read updates on the bulletin boards posted on the building and to grab up fresh editions of papers the minute the newsboys brought them out.

News writers, editors, linotype operators and pressmen worked around the clock to bring the story to a clamorous public.  Titanic was a story like none before.  It captivated people and sparked a relentless demand for fresh information as people demanded names of survivors and details of the sinking.

Residents argued in the street about who was at fault, and gossiped about what they knew of the local people known to be on the ship.  Everyone had a story to repeat or an opinion to express.  It was horrifying and fascinating all at the same time.  There were several Winnipeg passengers on Titanic with names that were widely known.  Hence, a great deal of attention was paid in the newspapers to “prominent people”, as in this excerpt from an article in the Manitoba Free Press on April 17, 1912.

“Mrs. Fortune and her three daughters are among the saved, but the list contains no mention of Mr. Fortune and his son Charles, nor of Hugo Ross, Thompson Beattie, or J.J. Borebank.  The lists show that a Mr. Graham,  Mrs. William Graham, and Miss Margaret Graham, of Winnipeg, were rescued.  These parties do not appear to be known here, and a dispatch received last night states that they are an English famiy, presumably bound for the Canadian Northwest.

It is not yet known definitely whether George E. Graham, purchaser for Eaton’s, was on the Titanic.  If he was, it is possible that he is the Mr. Graham who was saved.  A dispatch sent from Toronto yesterday stated that Mrs. Graham, who is at present in that city had received a Marconigram from her husband on the Titanic, dated Sunday, April 14.  This would appear to establish the fact that he was a passenger by the steamer, and that his fate is problematic.”

Winnipeg was no different in its reaction to the Titanic than any other city.  People gasped and shook their heads and waited eagerly for new details.   Titanic was the only thing anyone was talking about.

The following story appeared in the morning edition of the Manitoba Free Press on Wednesday, April 17, 1912.

Winnipeg Stirred

By Ocean Tragedy

____

Thousands of Telephone Calls

Answered Day and Night by

Free Press Office

___

Inquiries Come by Wire From Scores of Western Points—

One Topic of Conversation.

Seldom in the history of the city has the heart of Winnipeg been so stirred as by the news of the wreck of the giant liner Titanic.  Since the first work became public on Monday morning the intense interest of the whole city has been evident, but it was not until the full extent of the disaster was first indicated on Monday night, and it became known that prominent Winnipeg citizens were among those believed to have perished, that the keen interest of citizens in all walks of life was made apparent.  It has been evident in many directions, but probably in none so strikingly as in the great crowds that have surged about the bulletin board in front of the Free Press building at all hours of the day and evening.  From early Tuesday morning until after midnight there was never a time that there was not an eager mass of people keen for the latest news as it trickled slowly through its sources from the wireless instruments of the great liners far out in the Atlantic through telegraph and newspaper offices and the headquarters of the big shipping offices, until if finally found is way to Winnipeg.    Special telegraph services from every available source were pressed into service by the Free Press, and every scrap of news that would give any indication of the actual happening that resulted in the greatest marine disaster in history has been served to Winnipeg.

Prominent Winnipeggers.

Interest in Winnipeg was naturally heightened by the prominence of t the Winnipeg people known to have been aboard the Titanic.  Mark Fortune, Hugo Ross, and Thompson Beattie were among the best known businessmen of the city, all old-timers, and numbered their personal friends by the hundreds and their acquaintances by the thousands.  There were many other names well known in Winnipeg in the published lists of passengers and the demand for  the latest news therefore came from every direction. Thousands of inquires have been answered through the big battery of telephones in the Free Press editorial rooms since Monday morning, and dozens of these have come from anxious friends of passengers at all hours of  the night.

Avoid Criticism.

A notable feature of these inquires and of the general comment heard on the streets has been the disposition to avoid criticism fothe captan and officers of the Titanic, or to lay blame on anyone until the full facts are known.  In the streets, in offices and stores, in restaurants, in fact wherever people congregated, the disaster was the one topic.  Never before in Winnipeg has there been such sustained interest in a world happening of any kind.

That Winnipeg’s interest is shared by the whole west has been shown by the innumerable inquires that have come from all parts of Manitoba an dSaskatchewan.  Long distance messages asking for the latest news have come to the Free Press offices from dozens of points at all hours of the day and night, and it has been made evident that the whole country feels the stunning effect of the news so great a catastrophe.

Newsboys’ Harvest

Newsboys have reaped a veritable harvest in the past two days as regular and special editions have been issued.  IN most cases the boys have simply started out with all of the papers they could carry and always they have come back for more.  All editions have been exhausted before the demand on the streets has been satisfied.

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About Sandi Krawchenko Altner

Author of Ravenscraig.
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3 Responses to Titanic News in 1912: Winnipeg Stirred by Ocean Tragedy

  1. Sandi,

    I finally made it down to the Manitoba Museum to their “Titanic: The Manitoba Connection” exhibit. This was not the “big” Titanic exhibit that is currently in Winnipeg and is touring North America (I saw that a year ago in New York City), but it is all about Manitoba’s involvement in the Titanic.

    Our local exhibit was excellent. It was in one fairly small room in the middle of the Museum that was specially set up for this exhibit. There were about 8 cases filled with artefacts supplied by local people, and about the same number of storyboards on the walls describing various aspects of the Titanic and its relationship to Winnipeg.

    The introductory display case told about Winnipeg in 1912. It said 30 of the ship’s passengers had a direct connection to Manitoba. 13 of them, 9 of whom died, were residents or former residents of Manitoba. 14 were immigrants from England and Sweden who died, while the wife and daughter of one victim survived and were deported back to England. That only totals 29, so I’m not sure who the 30th was. With that case was a large plague placed at city hall in memory of: Mark Fortune, John Hugo Ross, Thomson Beattie, Charles A. Fortune, George E. Graham, and J.J. Borebank, who with 1484 others lost their lives when the steamship Titanic foundered in Mid-Atlantic. “They died that women and children might live”. This plaque was placed in the corridor of the City Hall a week after the disaster and remained there for decades.

    Next, they were playing a film continuously: Titanic: The Halifax Story. It had Canadian content, but not much from Manitoba. Although my ears perked up and I ran back to it when I heard it briefly mention Alice Fortune and it had a picture of her.

    The next table was the most interesting to me. Behind it on the wall were letters from Manitobans to the Museum (for this exhibit) about their connections to the Titanic, and on the table were the stories of maybe 30 more people. Here’s a few examples:

    – Walter V. Schoenhausen, Winnipeg: a collector had some item given to him in 1970 by family friends (the Lemon family) who lived at 420 Edmonton. The Lemon family were social friends of the Graham, Borebank and Fortune families.

    – Margaret Menzies (nee Turton) – her grandfather switched passage from the Titanic to the Carpathia. He was told the Titanic was very busy, so he was asked if he would go to the other ship. He was 3rd class and didn’t care, so he did. Saved his life.

    – Gayle Mann, Winnipeg: Her great-grandfather was Andrew Lattimer of Liverpool, Chief Stewart of the Titanic. He perished. His son immigrated to Winnipeg. She included the article: “Mourning Andrew Lattimer”. She said she does genealogy.

    – Marion Tetrault – a relative of hers was James Cobain, a carpenter who helped build the Titanic in Belfast.

    – Vernon Cole, Domain Manitoba. His grandfather was unable to book passage on the Titanic.

    – Bill Shead, Selkirk said that the gravestone of Mary (Montgomery) Muckle, who is buried near Selkirk, says: “she named Clandeboye and her nephew, Lord W. J. Pirrie built the RMS Titanic”.

    – Colleen Wilson, Winnipeg – her grandfather Robert Goldie Wilson helped to build the Titanic. (Note: obviously a lot of people were needed to build the ship as there were many connections to the builders).

    – Muriel Mushumanski, Winnipeg – her grandmother Sarah (Humphrys) Wickam (born 1892) booked to sail, but her grandmohter had “a bad feeling about the trip” and asked Sarah to not go on it. This was a few days before departure. Her luggage was already on board but Sarah decided not to go. She made arrangements that her luggage would be held for her in New York until she arrived. Obviously that didn’t happen. She crossed a few weeks later. Her family in Manitoba didn’t realize that she booked a different ship and thought she perished. They were shocked when she arrived. She settled in Waskada Manitoba and passed away in 1973.

    Some of the other storyboards had:

    – Winnipeg Connections – 2 storyboards. The first had stories about: The Winnipeg Musketters: Thomson Beattie, Thomas McCaffry and John Hugo Ross. The Fortune Family, George Edward Graham and John James Borebank. The second had Albert Adrian Dick, Charles Sedgewick, Harold Thomas Cottam, Ernest Portage Tomlin.

    – Immigrants on the Titanic. This had a stories about the Andersson Family (7 people), the Hart family (1 person) and the Hickman group (7 people). For every person who died, they had a little headstone with their name on it.

    Also on the wall of the room were copies of the front page of the 1912 Manitoba Free Press which had Titanic news. They had: April 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 22, 23, 24 and May 1 issues.

    There was also a Winnipeg Real Estate Exchange Titanic Memorial, honoring Mark Fortune, John Hugo Ross and Thomas Beattie who were members of the WREE.

    Sandi – you asked me if they had the Andersson story, and did list Alfrida Konstantia Brogren Andersson as one of those who perished. It said the Anderssons were travelling 3rd class from Kisa, Swedent to the home of Mrs. Andersson’s sister, Mrs Andrew Zakrisson, who lived on Hartcourt Street in Sturgeon Creek near Winnipeg. The two oldest girls who perished shared the same birthday and would have celebrated it on April 16, the day after the disaster.

    Overall, I really enjoyed the exhibit. I recommend it to anyone in Winnipeg who is interested. It is included with Museum admission (which by the way is a great Museum!)

    Louis

    • Hi Louis,
      Thanks so much for your most interesting review of the exhibit and thorough report! I was especially interested in the Titanic passengers the museum found to have connections to Winnipeg. I found an additional three people and will be writing about them. Also, Alice Fortune did settle in the Halifax area later, so it would make sense that she would be in that film. I have to track that one down as I haven’t seen it yet.
      Thanks,
      Sandi

  2. Pingback: Celebrating Winnipeg’s Past | Ravenscraig

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