The Fortune Family: Winnipeg Titanic Survivors

Only four people from Winnipeg, Canada, made it home after escaping the sinking of the Titanic. In all, there were about thirty people on the ship who were heading for Manitoba. Some were residents, others were immigrants, and still others were planning to stop and visit relatives while on their way further west.

All four survivors from the province of Manitoba were women, all from the same family: Mary Fortune and her daughters, Mabel, Ethel and Alice. Two other family members were lost in the shipwreck. They were Mary’s husband, Mark Fortune, a Winnipeg real estate tycoon, and their youngest child, 19-year-old Charles, affectionately known as Charlie.

The Titanic was the most luxurious ocean liner in the world. It left Southampton, on Wednesday April 10th, amid a great deal of fanfare and celebration for its maiden voyage to New York. The press had widely praised the ship as “unsinkable”.

According to newspaper reports, the Fortune women were incredulous that the Titanic sank before a rescue ship could arrive to save everyone who was on it. Two thirds of the 2,200 people on Titanic died as the vessel drifted down to the bottom of the ocean in a sea filled with icebergs off the coast of Newfoundland. It was a tragedy of colossal proportions.

Shocked and grieving the Fortunes returned to the new home Mary’s husband had so proudly built for his large family. With thirty-six rooms the wood and stone mansion at 393 Wellington Crescent was a very impressive addition to the exclusive Winnipeg neighbourhood on the Assiniboine River. It was a home built for parties and celebrations, and the laughter of grandchildren yet to be born. In the aftermath of the catastrophe it was a huge empty house, painfully silenced by the aching grief that came home with Mary and her daughters. The dramatic change in their lives was nothing they ever could have imagined would happen.

The Fortunes had left Winnipeg three months earlier. They had traveled by train to New York where they boarded the Franconia, bound for Trieste, a popular landing point for tourists, and the main seaport in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They were in the company of several friends, who were also well-known in Winnipeg: Thomas McCaffry, J.J. Borebank, and Thompson Beattie. Together the group was embarking on the Grand Tour, a fashionable extended vacation enjoyed by the wealthy class in the Gilded Age.

Throughout the early months of 1912, the Fortunes traveled to many places in Greece, Italy and France and toured exotic locations in the Middle East. The holiday was Mark Fortune’s gift to his family. Charlie had recently graduated from Bishop’s College in Lennoxville, Quebec and was planning to continue his studies at McGill. Mark Fortune may well have considered this to be the ideal time, and perhaps his only opportunity, to persuade his adult children to join him and their mother for such a tour. His two eldest children, Robert and Clara had already married and declined the invitation to join them. Two of the Fortune daughters, Ethel and Alice had fiancées waiting for them, and Mabel was said to have been in a serious relationship with a jazz musician her parents did not approve of.

The Fortune family vacation was apparently splendid. They trekked through Egypt to see the pyramids, and toured ruins, museums and chateaus throughout Europe. They stayed at the finest hotels and the ladies shopped for high fashion and the latest in trousseau trends in Paris. It appears they were denied nothing.

Their tour ended in London where they rested for a few days and celebrated Easter with a fantastic dinner at a London hotel. From London, they took the boat train to Southampton and witnessed the Wednesday festivities to launch the magnificent new ship. Titanic fever was running high throughout the country. Alice was even able to persuade a fellow tour companion, William Sloper, to change his ticket from the Mauretania so that he might enjoy her company on the crossing.

From Wednesday through the end of the weekend, the experience on Titanic was everything the passengers had believed it would be. There were sumptuous surroundings, fine entertainments and exquisite meals for the first class passengers. Throughout the ship there was much to admire about Titanic. Even the third class passengers were treated to steerage accommodations that were widely hailed as well superior to the norm.

By Sunday night, April 14th, Titanic was in the North Atlantic approaching Newfoundland. The temperature had plummeted to near freezing. Dark and cold was the night when the ship steamed into the ice field. Warnings of ice had come from ships in the area, but were not heeded by the captain. No order to slow the engines was given.

When the ship struck an iceberg shortly before midnight, there was no mass call for “all hands on deck”. There was confusion and “polite urging” for the passengers to put on their lifebelts.

According to the testimony taken in the Titanic inquires, there was a lack of urgency as the women and children were first ordered into the lifeboats. There was also a good deal of resistance from the passengers who had assembled on deck and peered down at the sea, seventy feet below as the lifeboats dangled and lurched their way down. So slow were the passengers to respond to the orders that the first boats to be lowered carried far less than capacity.

By the time the Fortune women headed for the lifeboats, fear had started to grip the crowd. Even so, it was with reluctance that Mary and her daughters agreed to leave the ship. As they were coaxed into lifeboat number ten, the sisters passed their money to their brother, Charlie who stayed on board with their father and waved good-bye.

The following article appeared on the front page of the Manitoba Free Press, on Saturday, April 20, 1912. I have transcribed it below.


Fortune Family
Parted on Boat
in Good Cheer

Women Had No Idea of Serious Condition of the Titanic

Gave Their Money to Charlie For Safe-Keeping Until They Met

Hugo Ross Was Ill in Bed When Disaster Occurred—Rescued Loathe to Talk

(Special Staff Correspondent)

New York, April 19—Strong and self-contained in the time of great bereavement, the survivors of the Fortune family, Mrs. Fortune and her 3 daughters, Mabel, Ethel and Alice, were joined in their rooms in the Belmont today by Charles Allan, of Winnipeg, who is engaged to the latter member of the family. But though showing remarkable fortitude, they would talk but little of the terrible tragedy by which they were robbed of father and brother. This strikes the newspaper man on the Titanic wreck assignment as being characteristic of nearly all of the survivors. There is a dread of recalling the awful disaster by talking of it, for the recounting of the events seems at once to bring the dreadful picture before their eyes. To Mr. Allan, however,
the story has been told, in part disjointedly and with little sequence, but still bringing forth many graphic pictures.

Did Not Think it was Last Parting
Probably one of the grimmest features of this story, as told to the Free Press, is the fact that upon leaving on the sixth boat the sisters handed over their money to Charlie, their brother, for safe keeping. When they left the ship they had no idea that they would never see either brother or father again. The prevailing opinion was that the Titanic would float for many hours, and that within 6 hours’ time the Carpathia would arrive to take off those who were left on board. They had scarcely drawn away, however, when the big ship commenced to keel, and at a safe distance from the vortex they watched her lights, and by them saw her heave and sink like a wounded sea monster. Mingled in the churning ice-strewn waters were those to whom they had bidden what they thought was only a short good-bye; the lights went out, and with them 1,500 lives. Dawn came over the ice-dotted sea, and for 8 hours they floated in the lifeboat, until they were picked up, almost the last, by the Carpathia.

Hugo Ross Was Ill
Of other western people who perished, they have little to tell. Hugo Ross, sick in his cabin was warned to dress by Thompson Beattie. The latter was heard to remark shortly before the Fortune boat left,
“Things look Pretty bad,” and then he went below to his friends.
Whether Mr. Ross managed to come on deck before the end came is not known. Neither of these men they saw again. None of the ladies had seen either J.J. Borebank, who was another Winnipegger lost. Alice thought she remembered having seen him at one time, but could not be sure. The boat on which the Fortunes escaped was ill manned, and the women who formed most of its human cargo took a hand at the rowing from time to time. The Dicks of Calgary were on board, but most of the passengers were steerage. A man clothed in a woman’s dress and with a veil tried to get on board, just as the boat was being lowered, a foreigner leapt on board. As they pulled away they saw the band, with
(Continued on Page Six.)

Fortune Family Parted on Boat in
Good Cheer

(Continued from Page One)

life preservers round their waists, and playing ragtime music. Just before the last, however, the notes of “Nearer my God to Thee,” came floating across the water to the survivors in the lifeboats.
“They never tried to get away,” Miss Fortune told Mr. Allan. “They just stood and played while the boats were lowered away and the steward walked round whistling and caring for the lady passengers. They were very brave.”
Mr. Allan has arranged with the C.P.R. to have a special car brought down by which the family will be conveyed to Winnipeg, either on Sunday or Monday.
Mr. and Mrs. Heber C. Hutton, of Winnipeg have also joined them here.

A final note:
While I used many sources in my research of the Titanic, if you are interested in further reading about Canadians on the Titanic I recommend: Titanic the Canadian Story by Alan Hustak. There is also a great deal of information to be found on the Encyclopedia-Titanica website (a must for all Titanic fanatics), and of course, where you will find a very good collection of old newspapers, particularly the Manitoba Free Press.

12 thoughts on “The Fortune Family: Winnipeg Titanic Survivors

  1. Sandi, this is fascinating. I didn’t realize of the Winnipeg-based people, that only the 4 women of the Fortune family survived. I’ll print out your post and take it with me for reference when I go to the Manitoba Museum exhibit, either this week or next week.

    And that’s a pretty amazing video of the real Titanic. Sure looks like a clunker compared to today’s cruise ships. But it set the standard and then did the unthinkable.

  2. Robert A. (Bob) Rutherford

    Hello Paul
    According to Encyclopedia Titanica, Mr Mark Fortune was born on 2 November 1847 in Carluke, Wentworth County, Ontaria, Canada. FYI, his daughter Alice is my grandmother.
    Bob Rutherford, Heckman’s Isand, NS

  3. Paul

    Thanks Robert, do you know how they arrived to settle in Canada? Where they immigrants from Ireland or Scotland? I read that they were born in Canada but where was their family originally from, thanks for the reply best regards

    Paul Fortune

    1. Robert A. (Bob) Rutherford

      As far as I am aware, Mark Fortune was of Scots-Irish descent, but I have no idea when or from where his forebearers arrived in Canada. I would expect that his wife Mary, with a surname McDougald was the same Scots-Irish background.

  4. Al Chov

    Did the surviving women still have their wealth after the males perished? Were they still involved in the real estate business?

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