When I think of Canada Day, I am reminded of the time when our grade five class went to visit Canada’s Confederation Train. It was in 1967 and the train was stopping in Winnipeg for a few days on its cross-country tour. Eastern Canada got Expo 67 in Montreal. The west got a glimpse of a train. But that’s okay. I was eleven, and none of my friends’ families were lucky enough to be traveling all the way to Montreal to see Expo 67 either. We were going to see news reports on Expo on TV. Maybe even in colour over at Uncle George’s house. But, I digress.
Our class field trip to the Confederation Train was a very exciting event that had been arranged for us by our teacher, Miss Wasserman, who was very strict and proper. In addition to learning the CA-NA-DA song by Bobby Gimby, our preparations were primarily concerned with how we were expected to behave so as not bring any shame to Principal Sparling School or worse, to result in embarrassing our teacher.
Luckily, for me, celebrating Canada’s one hundredth birthday meant we had to learn a little about our history and complete a project or two. “You are so terribly fortunate to be in grade five this year, because Canadian history is on our curriculum,” Miss Wasserman enthused. Of course, she also went beyond the curriculum, as always, and made sure we understood how privileged we were to have this rich history to study. The other grades apparently were not going to have benefits we had. This might have been true. I don’t remember being overloaded with studying Canadian history at any time through my school years.
Miss Wasserman truly made it a very positive experience to visit the train. I really think she liked it more than any of us. Kathy, Linda, Reena, Craig, the two Ians, Wendy, me and of course Wayne, who was smarter than all of us, were neatly lined up with our classmates, shortest to tallest, the girls all in tunics. We were shuttled off to the train station in a huge bus with other classes. I was greatly impressed with the visit because the train station was so noisy and because the train was full of exhibits and stories about how Canada became Canada. There was much to be proud of. The train itself, was beautiful and incredibly huge, in my memory. It even had a special horn.
And as near as I can remember, we were not the cause of any new gray hairs sprouting on Miss Wasserman’s curly, bespectacled head.
How great would it be to recreate such a train to inspire children today to take an interest in their history. I do hope we don’t have to wait for Canada’s bicentennial for such an opportunity.
And finally, how could I share this story without also sharing a video that features that Bobby Gimby song, CA-NA-DA. Happy Canada Day.
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.
When the Canadian Pacific Railway opened the Royal Alexandra Hotel on July 19, 1906, it was one of the finest in Canada. It cost a million dollars to build and was designed with the sophisticated business traveler and lavish Winnipeg party host in mind. With 450 rooms, including many luxury suites, it was a dramatic testament to Winnipeg’s self-procaimed reputation as the fastest growing city in the Dominion. In a story about the opening, The Winnipeg Tribune called the impressive hotel a: “guarantee in brick and stone that the future growth of Winnipeg is assured.”
Another article, this one by The Canada Hotels Journal, in August, 1906, told its readers: “The new CPR hotel, the Royal Alexandra, which was opened last month in Winnipeg, gives to that city one of the finest hostelries in Canada and one that is surpassed by few on the continent.”
Indeed it was. Named for a queen, the hotel was immediately dubbed the Royal Alex and declared its place as the social centre of Winnipeg.
It would be another six years before the hotel’s prime competitor, the Hotel Fort Garry, would be built, giving the Royal Alex plenty of time to assert her grandeur and attract her followers.
The hotel was built at Higgins and Main, on the North-east corner. To allow for it’s construction next to the Canadian Pacific Railway station, a number of “Hebrew” businesses were reportedly displaced from their established locations along Main Street.
The Royal Alexandra offered exquisite menus and the finest services available for travelers and local residents in need of pampering. If advertising is to be believed, it even provided one of Winnipeg’s early locations for top level beauty treatments.
This advertisement for a beauty parlor that perhaps needed no name, appeared in the Manitoba Free Press, shortly after the hotel opened.
“I have at considerable expense laid out a first class parlor, fully equipped in every branch of hairdressing, hair-dyeing, wig-making, scalp treatment, facial steaming and manicuring departments, all of which will have my personal supervision.”
The ad was placed by William Saalfeld who explained his extensive training in Paris, Montreal, London and other cities, and added that he had bee a court hairdresser.
While the salon may have been reason alone to visit the Royal Alex, the hotel was most certainly seen first as a highly desirable event location.
Weddings, galas, and Royal visits were hosted in the sumptuous halls that included the greatly loved Café, lined with oak and suffused in East European opulence. Champagne, caviar, and a seemingly endless flow of moneyed guests maintained the hotel’s aura of richness.
But, it was a dream that started to fade all too quickly. As hopes for continued growth in Winnipeg started to wane, so too, did the glamour of the Royal Alexandra start to dim.
By the time the hotel was sixty years old she was a tattered old lady no one wanted to visit. Wrong location, too costly to keep warm, and too old to care about. The hotel was closed at the end of December in 1967.
The last event in the grand hotel marked the beginning of a new life for someone else. It was a wedding on December 30th, 1967. Mr. and Mrs. R. J. Linton were caught by a Winnipeg Tribune photographer as they left the hotel.
For the next four years the Royal Alex stood empty, but for the security guards who patrolled her halls and listened for ghosts from parties past. There were many ambitious plans put forward to save the building, to find another purpose for her many rooms, and to preserve her historical value. But alas, the plans all fell under the weight of crushing costs that could not be supported.
The terrible announcement was made on March 1, 1971. The building had to come down. There was nothing that could happen to stop it. A local wrecking company, owned by Alexander Billinkoff, was hired to bring down the decayed and decrepit Royal Alex. Because it was Winnipeg, there was still a lot to argue about despite the decision. The history fans were appeased with the promise of an auction and many Manitobans were able to cart away special treasures to hold dear and perhaps even pass down to their grandchildren. But not everyone took things to keep in private collections.
One special couple, Allan and Donni Stern had a bigger idea and joined forces with Alec Billinkoff to make it happen. They decided they wanted to save the one dining room that had been left untouched by renovations in the hotel. The Cafe, which had seen many names over the years, would be lovingly preserved and rebuilt in a new location.
Piece by piece the décor of the famous Café, then known as the Selkirk Dining Room, was carefully removed, coded and stored. The initial plans for rebuilding the room in Winnipeg did not work out and the Café sat packed away for over 25 years before it was rescued from storage and recreated in all of its splendour in the Canadian Museum of Rail Travel in Cranbrook, British Columbia in a millenium project almost one hundred years after the hotel had first been built.
So, if one more spin on the dance floor in that marvelous old room would make your heart sing, you might consider a trip to Cranbrook.
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.
Many years ago I was on a bus on Graham Avenue, a very well known street in downtown Winnipeg. I was seated next to a man who knew a lot about Winnipeg history. As we passed the Eaton store, he said, “Graham Avenue is named for a man who went down on the Titanic. His name was George Graham and he worked for the Eaton’s Company. Did you know that?”
I didn’t, and said so. I was eleven and terribly impressed by the story. I knew about the Titanic, but to think there was someone from Winnipeg in the great ship disaster was very exciting indeed.
It was decades later that I became truly captivated by the Titanic, in doing research for my novel, Ravenscraig. I read books, articles and old newspapers, watched every movie, documentary and video clip I could find, and I became totally immersed in the articles and discussion boards on the website Encyclopedia-Titanica as I learned the stories of Winnipeg passengers such as Eva Hart and the Fortune Family. I came across the story of the Graham Avenue tribute to the Titanic passenger countless times.
All the while I was adding to my collection of rare books from Manitoba. One day, while visiting Burton Lysecki’s book store in Winnipeg, Burton handed me an old book of maps he thought I would find interesting: Winnipeg in Maps 1816-1972 by Alan F.J. Artibise and Edward H. Dahl.
In peering at the maps in the book I came across the startling revelation that Graham Avenue had nothing to do with George Graham.
The street had been called Graham for forty years or so before the Titanic sank.
The evidence is seen in this map from 1874, “Plan of the City of Winnipeg”.
The map was compiled and drawn in 1874 by John D. Parr and is made available by Manitoba Historical Maps on Flickr.
More on the person for whom Graham Avenue was truly named later, but first, the story of George Edward Graham:
He was born on a farm near St. Mary’s, in southwestern Ontario, on June 11, 1873, the sixth of seven brothers. As the story is told, he was 17 when he went to work as a clerk at a hardware store. He went on to become a salesman in Galt and then, in 1903 he moved to Toronto and began working for the Eaton’s Department Store. Timothy Eaton, the founder of the successful enterprise also had a history in St. Mary’s. It was the location of his first dry goods store before he bought the Toronto store in 1869.
George did well. He married Edith May Jackson from Harriston, Ontario and a year later, in 1906, he moved his bride to Winnipeg, having accepted a promotion and transfer to the big new Eaton’s store on Portage Avenue where he became the manager of the fine china and crockery department. Life was bustling and interesting for the wealthy class in Winnipeg in the years the Grahams lived there. It was a fast growing city filled with vibrant attractions in theatre, fine restaurants, musical societies and many entertainments to be enjoyed.
While George’s career was soaring in Winnipeg, the couple also was made to suffer heartbreaking losses. Their three year old son, John Humphrey, died in 1911. Edith became pregnant again a few months later, but miscarried.
One can imagine the discussion in the Graham home when George was told Eaton’s needed him to go on a buying trip to Europe in 1912. According to family reports, with Edith still frail and recovering, the couple decided it would be best for Edith to stay with her family while he was abroad, so Edith returned to Harriston.
George boarded the Titanic at Southampton as a first class passenger. According to family legend, he was scheduled leave on the Mauretania three days later, but changed his ticket to the Titanic to get home sooner. He spent time with other traveling salesmen. They had dinner together, and each signed the back of a menu.
George was one of the many passengers on Titanic who dropped by the wireless room, Sunday, April 14th, to send a marconigram to his wife. The message went out just hours before Titanic struck the iceberg in the North Atlantic.
“New York Wednesday Morning, Wire Me Sandy Hook. Well.”
It was Sunday afternoon when Mrs. Graham received the Marconigram given above. She had come down from Winnipeg a few days previously to meet her husband, and was planning happily the return journey when she retired Sunday night. On Monday morning came the terrible news of the collision. Later despatches roused in her heart a hope–more, almost a certainty–that her husband would be saved. This morning, weeping, sorrowing as bereaved ones alone can sorrow, she has learned what took place off the Newfoundland Banks.
Edith was never to see her husband again. We know that George Graham did take time to strap on a life jacket. His body was recovered by the MacKay-Bennett (#147). He was wearing a black overcoat, and a blue serge suit. He was carrying the following items – Memo book; cheque for $300.00; pocket book; credit book, T. Eaton & Co.; silver pencil case; fountain pen; pencil case; keys; gold watch; fob and locket; 7 shillings and 3 pence; $105.00; 2 pocket knives; 1 gold collar button.
George Graham had also taken time to look after one more piece of business before he set sail on Titanic. He dashed off a quick letter to a business contact and popped the letter into the mail before the ship sailed. The letter was written on Titanic stationary, and is famous for having fetched the largest sum ever paid at auction for a letter associated with Titanic.
To learn more about Canadian passengers, I highly recommend Alan Hustak’s excellent book: Titanic: The Canadian Story, in which he details the lives of 130 Canadian passengers on Titanic.
Now for the matter of Graham Avenue in Winnipeg.
It is named for James Allan Graham, a fur trader who worked for many years with the Hudson Bay Company. The Manitoba Historical Society Website has details of his life and his contributions to Manitoba.
Graham Avenue has its roots in the Hudson Bay Company (HBC). Named after an HBC factor, or trader, James Allan Graham, the prominent department store still anchors one end of the avenue. The City of Winnipeg designated the street as a central bus corridor in 1994, and the Graham Avenue Transit Mall was born. Today, 29 of Winnipeg Transit’s 87 routes converge on the avenue. The area is popular with surrounding downtown workers, shoppers, people attending medical appointments, area residents and loyal customers.
In closing, if you are new to Titanic enthusiasm, please do visit the Encyclopedia-Titanica website, which I have found to be tremendously helpful in my research.
Long after streetcars no longer operated in Winnipeg, my grandmother, whom we called, Baba, still called buses streetcars, and bus tickets car fare. She was born in 1909, so she had always known public transportation in Winnipeg as the streetcar. I never really understood that until this week, when I stumbled across this 1953 film by Roman Kroiter, called Paul Tomkowicz: Street-railway Switchman. Not only is this a compelling story about a hard-working, dignified man, but it shows us some amazing scenes of daily life in Winnipeg in the post World War II years of prosperity.
I never rode a streetcar in Winnipeg, but I have ridden on plenty of trolley buses, and Kroiter’s lovely film prompted some reminiscing.
When I was little, we lived on Gallagher Avenue in Winnipeg, near Weston School. When I was nine years old and in grade four, I was transferred to Principal Sparling School on Sherburn near Notre Dame, a school I attended for the next three years.
This meant I would be taking the bus to school. It was tremendously exciting, because this wasn’t a school bus, it was the regular city bus that grown-ups took to work, and mini-skirted teenagers took to Tec Voc School. Looking back, I have many fond memories of that ride on the trolley bus that went down Logan, then left at Keewatin and headed east on Notre Dame.
I was a short kid. I stood third in line in those curious school lineups that compelled administrators to assemble children from shortest to tallest. The divide between the sexes at Principal Sparling was prominent. The school had one door for boys and another for girls, despite the mixed classes. The school had strict rules in other areas, too. Under Miss Wasserman’s watchful eye, the girls learned to curtsey, dance the Schottische, and to serve tea, should we be asked to help out at an official function: the kind where you would wear white cotton gloves and a puffy crinoline under your skirt.
I don’t know what the boys learned, but I seem to remember they also got roped into that Schottische business along with the girls. At least the boys could wear pants. The girls were required to wear skirts at that time, even in the coldest weather. So, to deal with this dress code in the days before snowsuits, we had to wear heavy snow pants over our tights and under our bulky winter coats. Our mothers were mostly in their twenties and early thirties then, and apparently lived in fear of whooping cough. From October to May, in addition to the coats and pants, our winter protection included hats with ear flaps, mittens on strings, and scarves wrapped double to cover our faces and protect us from the weather or perhaps germs.
The bus, at that time, was a trolley bus, riding on big tires and powered by electricity fed through long antennae-like poles that reached up to the power lines. The trolley poles would spark and crackle on the wires in snowy weather, and sometimes a pole would drop and the bus would stop. The bus driver would hustle outside and guide the pole back into place and we’d soon be on our way.
The doors of the bus folded back, exposing steep steps up into the car. The ribbed rubber mats were wet and gritty. Costumed as I was, against the wrath of winter, and carrying my school bag on my shoulder, along with my lunch pail and violin case, the very act of climbing up into the bus and getting settled was very cumbersome. But, I loved the bus ride. Here, for twenty minutes, I was immersed in the world of strangers and came to appreciate the many benefits of eavesdropping on the other passengers. I learned that people who took the bus to work in offices downtown didn’t talk much. They read books and newspapers. The teenage girls on their way to Tec Voc wanted nothing to do with me, but had lively conversations that bubbled over each other. These girls left me envious for both the things they had to giggle about, as well as the length of their legs, planted firmly on the floor while mine dangled in the air as I sat back on the seat buried beneath my heap of belongings.
The people I almost always found to be the most interesting were older. They often had much to say about the price of groceries, their neighbourhood gossip, and sometimes the city issues they had heard discussed on the radio or in the newspaper. While they spoke in English, they invariably had accents. Ukrainian, Polish, Yiddish, among many others. I had never heard a person with gray hair speak clean English. Naturally I assumed that I, too, would have an accent one day, and it made me wonder what that accent would be and when my speech would change.
But that is another story, for another day.
If you would like to learn more about early public transportation in Winnipeg, you will enjoy John E. Baker’s book, Winnipeg’s Electric Transit.
If you can’t find it, check with Burton Lysecki at his book store.
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