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.
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.
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.
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 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.