I am thrilled that the Winnipeg Free Press has selected Ravenscraig as one of top fiction titles in their annual “Best of the Year” book list.
The Canadian version of the book will soon be going to reprint through Manitoba publisher, Heartland Associates.
This has been a very exciting year for me in watching the book gain an audience outside of Canada. Few things are more exciting for an author than to have people you’ve never met tell you how they enjoyed reading your story.
The Kindle version of Ravenscraig, published in the US by Franklin and Gallagher, has had more than 12,000 downloads in 2012.
I am most thankful to those who take the time to post their reviews on Amazon. Ravenscraig is rated as 4.7 stars out of 5 with 21 reviews.
5.0 out of 5 stars Ravenscraig
I read this book whilst in hospital and really enjoyed it. It combined a good yarn with a bit of social history in regard to the persecution of the Jews, their immigration from Europe, and their hardships and successes in Canada and the U.S.A. in an easy to read form. I am looking forward to reading book two!
Perhaps the greatest enjoyment in writing a book is getting notes from readers who are touched by the book. This weekend I received two special notes that I would like to share.
The first is from Heidi, a friend from my early days in radio in Winnipeg.
“I lent my book to my 82-year old father who just returned it today. He’s a German immigrant who was a Wpg transit bus driver his entire working life in Canada and spent many a year driving in the north end. He LOVED your book, and that’s high praise from someone who doesn’t have English as his first language.”
The second note is from someone I only know by reputation for her fantastic Deli on Corydon in Winnipeg, Marla Bernstein of Bernstein’s Deli. (I’ve edited the note to be sure there are no spoilers.)
I finished your wonderful book this evening on the way home from the lake . As a Jewish Winnipegger I knew that I would love RAVENSCRAIG from the first time I heard about it…(I actually do not remember if it was a review in the Jewish Post, or Free Press, or CBC Radio).
Having Grandparents who immigrated here from Eastern Europe about 20 years after your Ravenscraig characters came to the Golden Land I can appreciate the Jews who were the first and how horrible it was for them at the beginning. By the time my Family arrived here I would think that a lot of groundwork must have been done and although poverty stricken they must have had more of a support system in place than your immigrants did.
I love the story of the allotment of acreage for those willing to farm. I love the story of the Zigman Family.
Ravenscraig is a wonderful saga. It even prompted me to take a slow joy ride through Armstrong’s Point, which I have never paid much attention to in the past.
Thank you Sandi for providing me with such a good story.
Thanks for hearing me out ! Enjoy life ! When you are back in Winnipeg and you get hungry during the day I would love to invite you to my Deli for a sandwich and a bowl of soup,(another reason I love the Zigman family)>
This blog celebrates the history of Winnipeg, my hometown, and occasionally allows me to indulge in some wider observations of the world that catch my interest.
Here you will find stories about Winnipeg at the turn of the 20th century when the Manitoba capital declared her glory as one of the fastest growing cities in North America. The research behind the stories you will find on this site was done over many years and became the basis for the storyline for my novel, Ravenscraig. I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions. Email me at: email@example.com
The early years in Manitoba were very exciting, with Winnipeg recognized as the gateway city for people and goods traveling west to the new frontier. From these years of rapid growth in Winnipeg, 1874-1914, there developed a large group of millionaires and the crop of mansions they built to impress each other.
Historian, Dr. Alan Artibise, referred to these captains of industry as “the commercial elite” and truly Winnipeg was seen by those “down east” in Ontario, as the place to be for those seeking to make or increase their fortunes at the dawn of the 20th century.
But not everyone had a shot at the big money in Winnipeg.
On the other side of the tracks, newly arrived immigrants struggled to overcome the horrors of poverty, disease and anti-foreigner sentiments as they fought to put down roots in the New Country. It is from this determination of the newcomers to survive and prosper that the famed Winnipeg North End came to be.
To help understand the rich mosaic in this colourful history, I’ve included a selection of films, featuring such topics as Jews in Winnipeg, life in a Ted Baryluk’s store in the North End, and a terrific NFB film about a man whose job was to keep the tracks clean for the Winnipeg street cars.
Titanic, I must say, is my true love in research topics so you will find a number of postings about Winnipeg’s Titanic connection, and Titanic in general. In all there were more than thirty passengers on the ship who were on their way to Winnipeg to return home, stay for a visit, or like survivor Eva Hart’s family, to settle in Manitoba as immigrants.
I was a child when I first learned about the Titanic. My dad took us for a drive to point out Mark Fortune’s house on Wellington Crescent and told us about the six people from the Fortune family who were on their way home to Winnipeg when the great ship struck an iceberg and sank. I was horrified, and instantly hooked.
Ravenscraig, the blog, (and title of my novel) is taken from the name of a fictitious home, Ravenscraig Hall, in Winnipeg’s Armstrong’s Point and owned by Rupert Willows, the lead character in the book.
About the novel:
Ravenscraig is about two families: the Willows—wealthy, powerful and anti-Semitic, and the Zigmans—newly arrived Jews, struggling to put down roots in Winnipeg’s North End.
Click on the image below to see the book trailer for Ravenscraig.
It’s been a very busy and interesting April with a book tour that took me to Montreal and Winnipeg. I met with old friends and new and was thrilled to discuss Ravenscraig with impassioned readers who had much to say about Rupert Willows and the early days of Winnipeg when it was among the fastest growing cities in North America.
It was great fun to do my first international radio interview a couple of weeks ago, with Marc Montgomery of The Link on Radio Canada.
Click on the photo to link to the interview.
An updated version of the book trailer was posted on Youtube today.
And I am deeply honoured to be in the company of such a fine group of talented writers who have been nominated for the Manitoba Book Awards, which will be announced on Saturday night, April 28th. I am still pinching myself that Ravenscraig, a debut novel, has been short listed for the Carol Shields Award.
How exciting it is for me, a Titanic fanatic, that this coincides with the 100th anniversary of the Titanic setting sail on her maiden voyage.
About the book:
Ravenscraig is historical fiction that is of particular appeal to readers interested in Jewish migration to North America, The Titanic, and anyone with an affection for Winnipeg’s history in its boom town years, a century ago.
Nothing is more important to Rupert J. Willows than the image he has built to hide the deep secret of his true identity. A master manipulator, the ruthless and charismatic Rupert schemes his way into the upper class when he purchases the opulent mansion, Ravenscraig Hall. It is the turn of the 20th century in one of the fastest growing cities in North America; a brawling, raucous, frontier boomtown with a taste for fine theatre and loose women. True power is within Rupert’s grasp as long as his secret stays buried.
Malka Zigman is a survivor. Orphaned in London, she has just joined her Uncle Zev and his hardworking Jewish family in Canada. Recent immigrants who escaped from poverty and violence in czarist Russia, the Zigmans struggle to put down roots in the New World. With family resources stretched thin, Malka takes a risk. Everything is about to change as she reinvents herself as Maisie Rosedale and crosses over to the exclusive world of “the English” as the new maid at Ravenscraig.
Tragedies, and triumphs grip the lives of these two families as their futures inextricably twine together to culminate on the Titanic.
Sandi Krawchenko Altner is a Jew by choice who enjoyed a long career in television and radio news in Canada. You may remember her as a reporter for Pulse News at Montreal’s CFCF TV. Sandi was born and raised in Winnipeg, and is a fifth descendent of the first group of Ukrainian immigrants who settled near Vita, Manitoba, in 1896. She grew up with a keen interest in her roots, and a deep love for history. Sandi now lives and writes in Florida. She and her husband, Bob Altner have two daughters and two spoiled dogs. Ravenscraig is her first novel.
Praise for Ravenscraig:
Ravenscraig has been shortlisted for the 2011 Manitoba Historical Society’s prestigious Margaret McWilliams Award in Popular History.
“Wonderful…Welcome to Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs with a Winnipeg Twist.”
-Ron Robinson, Winnipeg Free Press
“Ravenscraig is superb. It is a book that almost seems to have been written specifically for me, involving Jewish immigrants who resemble what my great-grandparents were like, and reflecting the attitude and hope that I have in life.”
—Louis Kessler, past president, the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada
With four weeks on the bestseller list in Winnipeg, Ravenscraig, is finding an audience among both family history enthusiasts as well as people who have a fascination with the Titanic and Winnipeg’s connection to the great disaster. I am grateful and so pleased that there is such a strong interest in stories about how the early immigrants managed in a city that was the fastest growing in the Dominion of Canada.
This week, Bernie Bellan posted his review of Ravenscraig in the Winnipeg Jewish Post and News saying it provides “a fascinating insight into early Jewish migration into Winnipeg.”
Where “Ravenscraig” excels, however, and no doubt why it has become an immediate best-seller locally, is in its description of Winnipeg at the turn of the 20th century and certain key events that are probably unknown to most readers.
For instance, a major typhoid outbreak in 1905 becomes a centerpiece of the novel. In her description of the horrible living conditions of the bulk of the immigrant population in Winnipeg, Krawchenko Altner does a fine job of evoking the misery that accompanied life for so many of our grandparents and great-grandparents.
At the same time the level of corruption in which Winnipeg’s Anglo Saxon leaders engaged is also quite astounding and is brought to life on the pages of this book. “Ravenscraig’ devotes a fair bit of space to the issue of red-light houses in the city and how it was that police and elected officials not only turned a blind eye to the prostitution that was conducted so openly, those same officials profited hugely from its practice.
Bernie Bellan is the editor of the Winnipeg Jewish Post and News, and has a particular affection for Jewish history in Winnipeg. When we talked last week I was delighted to discuss not only Ravenscraig, but also the work of his grandfather, Ruben Bellan, an economics professor who wrote a very informative history book that is in my collection of Manitoba rare books. Winnipeg’s First Century: An Economic History provides a solid road map of sources for those who are interested in further study of Winnipeg’s development.
In his review, Bernie also mentions Allan Levine’s, Coming of Age: A History of the Jewish People of Manitoba. This is a fantastic work that is rich with detail and inspiring stories. Allan has also written a most enjoyable series of historical novels set in Winnipeg that I heartily recommend. These are the Sam Klein mysteries. Allan and I went to high school together at Garden City Collegiate and it was wonderful to see him at the Ravenscraig launch in Winnipeg. Allan’s latest book King, has also just been released.
I count myself lucky that I knew so little about the publishing industry when I started writing Ravenscraig. It would have gotten in the way of the writing.
Well over a decade ago, I tasted the freedom of “making up a story”, when I started to play with words outside of work. As a news reporter, my writing was constrained by the rules of truth and responsibility, and a strong journalistic ethic to be unbiased and thorough. It was a tantalizing treat to find that fiction would cut me loose. I could invent anything. Well, not exactly. I’m not the science fiction type and I’m not much for literature that involves flying dragons or dripping daggers. While I love reading history of any kind, as well as mysteries, biographies, political memoires, and even the occasional juicy “beach trash” novel, as a writer, my heart is in historical fiction.
So it was that I gravitated to the news stories of Winnipeg, in the late 19th century and found myself writing a novel. I buried myself in research and learned fascinating tales about a hard living western saloon town bent on success. I spent evenings and weekends combing through the Internet as well as piles of documents, tattered books, scholarly works, newspaper archives and microfilmed testimony from a hundred years ago. I learned about prostitutes, typhoid epidemics, the struggles of immigrants, anti-Semitism, fire fighting in the 1890s, travel in the gilded age, and of course, I became all but swallowed up by the most appealing subject of all: the Titanic.
I developed a great passion for historical research, but it was the people I studied who set my imagination on fire. A parade of characters, some true, some figments, wandered into my mind, demanding that I pay attention and hear what they had to say. Writing their experiences, dealing with their emotions and living with their joys and heartaches became a very fulfilling journey over a great many years.
If you are not a writer, and perhaps, even if you are, about now you might think me a bit of a nut, someone who has imaginary friends to hang out with and lives a small and withered life in the back corner of a dusty library, communing with spirits. I can assure you that I am actually quite well grounded, and deeply content in my life, and that I prefer to sit outside when I write. (I gave up snow for palm trees.) But we can talk more about the satisfaction gained from living as a writer on another day.
A part of every trip to Winnipeg was and is dedicated to research. Most trips started with visiting Burton Lysecki and Karen Sigurdson at the fabulous Burton Lysecki Book Store. They specialize in rare Manitoba works and always kept special books aside for me, and helped me track down works I needed. I also spent a lot of time at the Manitoba Archives, the Manitoba Legislative Library, Heritage Winnipeg, the City of Winnipeg Archives, and the Jewish Historical Society, where I read family accounts of early Winnipeg memories.
More than anything it was the photos of those many years ago that truly inspired my desire to learn more about how people managed.
There was such great poverty and hardship suffered by so many people in the foreign quarter.
It is astonishing to think about it, especially when we look at pictures of children. The Foote collection at the Manitoba Archives is particularly interesting and sobering.
Equally of interest to me was learning about the wealthy class. Winnipeg, like so many other cities with rapid growth at the turn of the century was a city of stark contrasts and home to a number of millionaires who traveled the world, enjoyed theatre, opera and the musical society as well as sports such as curling, golf, and fox hunting. There were two distinct worlds in Winnipeg and undoubtedly many people lived out their entire lives never seeing “how the other half lived”.
In 2009 I was ready to expose my work to friends and family. A cumbersome prospect for a novel of 500 pages. My mother certainly wasn’t going to read anything like this on a computer. I found a print on demand company that charges you by the book. I ordered a few a copies and it was the best thing I could have done. When that box arrived and I opened it, on March 6th, 2009, I was over the moon with excitement. It looked like a book. It hefted like a book. And the best was, it didn’t look like it was going to fall apart. I felt like an author for the first time.
To my utter delight, I had very encouraging feedback from my advance readers. Three comments stand out.
First from my friend Jane, an oncologist in Florida, who called me on a Sunday afternoon: “Sandi, I have to tell you that first I wanted to read this only because you’re my friend, and I’m too polite to have said no to you. I’m a hundred pages in and just had to call to let you know that this is really good.”
Janet, a dear friend in Montreal: “I was reading your book while in line at the grocery store cash register, and I was so taken with the story, I had tears running down my face. The manager offered me a chair, so I could weep in comfort while I finished the chapter.”
My greatest worry was how this was going to read in the Jewish community in Winnipeg. I am a Jew by choice, having converted in 2005. I have no genetic link to Judaism that I know of. My knowledge comes from study so it was very important to me that the story rang true among those whose roots are among the Jewish pioneers of Winnipeg. I sent the draft to Louis Kessler, former president of the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada, whom I first met in Junior High. We were in class together at Edmund Partridge.
Louis sent me this note: “I thought Ravenscraig was superb. You can add another dozen superlatives here. But it is a book that you almost seem to have written specifically for me, being located in Winnipeg, referring to landmarks and locations that have meaning to me, involving Jewish immigrants who resemble what my great-grandparents were like, and reflecting the attitude and hope that I have in life.”
What followed next was sending the book out to publishers. The letters came back gently refusing the work. But one in particular was very encouraging. In evaluating the manuscript, the editor wrote:
“There is a great deal to admire as well as to be charmed by in the novel: Ms Altner’s ability to imagine herself into the minds-and hearts-of characters who are very different from each other, and distant from ourselves by virtue of the traditions and conditions of the time. I learned a great deal about the growth of the city of Winnipeg, which I have always thought one of the most intriguing cities in Canada (western yet not quite, the incubator of fiercely held political/social beliefs, an arts capital), and found the approach to issues such as the pressure to assimilate, never mind outright racism, sensitively and intelligently treated.”
This editor, whom I have never met, but to whom I am indebted, had also provided clues on what was needed to address the weaknesses in the manuscript. I rewrote the book twice over the following 18 months, conjuring up an imaginary version of this editor to rake me over the coals and help me find the path to a cleaner story.
I cautiously put the new version into the hands of a select few new readers. Among them was an old Winnipeg friend who had gone into the film business in Toronto, Greg Klymkiw. Greg was a tremendous help in both his enthusiasm for the work, and his bold statement. “I want to be your editor.” Over several months Greg would “Skype me in” and we’d have these fabulous story building sessions talking about characters, story lines and how to think about writing action as opposed to reflection. I am very grateful for Greg’s valuable and generous input and can only say that if you ever have the opportunity to work with him, you will be truly blessed.
At the same that I was working through new revisions with Greg, Ravenscraig caught the attention of Peter St. John of Heartland Associates and the long road to find a publisher ended in Winnipeg with Heartland purchasing the Canadian rights. Publisher and editor, Barbara Huck, provided the polishing touch to the manuscript and was the driving force to get it out in time for Christmas and Hannukah. This week Ravenscraig is rolling off the presses at Friesens in Altona, Manitoba. A Manitoba story with a Manitoba publisher and a Manitoba printer. I am utterly thrilled that Heartland took this on and was so determined to make this happen.
It is a long and interesting road to bring a book through traditional publishing, especially in these challenging times in the industry. Thank you, Peter and, especially Barbara, for moving mountains to make this dream come true.
Heartland and Associates, a Manitoba publishing house, has purchased the Canadian rights to Ravenscraig by Sandi Krawchenko Altner.
The book will be launched in Winnipeg on November 29, 2011, at the McNally Robinson store at Grant Park.
A sweeping epic set at the turn of the 20th century, Ravenscraig reveals the secrets and lies that tie two families together. Rupert Willows has hidden away his past to manipulate his way to wealth and power. Zev Zigman, a devout Jew, mounts a desperate struggle to bring his family out of Russia and put down roots in Winnipeg’s North End.
Tragedies, triumphs, and the Titanic shape the lives of these two families as their futures entwine to illuminate a dark corner of Winnipeg’s past when it was the fastest growing city in the Dominion.
About the Author:
Sandi Krawchenko Altner enjoyed an award-winning career in television and radio news in Calgary, Winnipeg and Montreal, before she left to follow her passion for writing fiction. She is a fifth generation descendent of the first colony of Ukrainian immigrants to settle in Stuartburn, Manitoba in 1896. Sandi grew up with a keen interest in her roots and a deep love of history. A Jew by choice, Sandi celebrated conversion in 2005. She lives, writes and blogs in Florida where she is active in her synagogue. Sandi and her husband have two daughters and two happy dogs. Ravenscraig is her first novel.
Click on the image below to see the book trailer for Ravenscraig.
My sisters and I have hands like our great grandmother. I know this, not because I remember her so well, but because I can see her work-worn hands resting quietly in her lap in a photograph that was taken in 1936. It must have been a Sunday, according to my mother, because they never worked on Sundays, and because she was wearing shoes. Her name was Aksana Shmigelsky and she was married to Nykola Strumbicky, who loved her with all of his heart.
Aksana is sitting in a kitchen chair outside her house at their farm near Vita, Manitoba. Nykola, is standing next to her. They were Baba and Gedo to their many grandchildren and great grandchildren. But to my mother, Mary and her cousins, Aksana was affectionately known as “Fat Baba”, to distinguish her from the other babas: Aksana’s mother and mother-in-law, both of whom were thin.
Kind and hard working, Aksana was barefoot all summer long, unless she was in church. She was known for making bread, cranberry jam, and whiskey, which she only served on special occasions or to important company. The bread was made in an outdoor oven called a pich.
I look at the photos and I think of the work that passed through Aksana’s hands in the harsh winters and blistering hot summers of Manitoba. In the picture with Nykola, she is the same age as I am now.
Some of the work she would have done is familiar to my brothers and sisters and me. Our hands have comforted children, planted marigolds in May, and have even kneaded dough for bread. But her hands were talented in ways that ours are not. Baba’s hands could pluck a chicken, plait garlic pulled fresh from the earth, and make intricate cross stitch patterns in a white cloth for an Easter basket.
My mother was 5 years old in 1936.
She was raised on this farm with her older sister Elsie. Everyone spoke Ukrainian. Mom learned English only when she moved to Winnipeg. The first home she lived in had a thatched roof and a mud floor.
Her grandparents had lived in the traditional Ukrainian style of shelter for more than 30 years before they built their “modern” house when my mother was a little girl. She remembers the new wooden house being built.
She also remembers how wonderful summers were at Vita because her cousins, Bob and Lug Harcott, who were close to her age, would come from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, with their mother, Ann Harcott, to spend the summer at the farm with her.
Canada was deep into the depression in the 1930s, and there were no luxuries on the farm, but there were plenty of good times and they never went hungry.
Some years later, the little brothers would come along to join the gang, Bill Harcott and Bill Bachynsky.
Their mothers, Tillie Bachynsky and Ann Harcott, seen here in 1928, dressed for the camera, remained very close all of their lives.
Aksana and Nykola married in Vita. They had both come to Canada with their families. In the “old country” they were from villages a few miles apart, Zalischiky and Blyschanka in Galicia, Austria, now in the westernmost part of Ukraine.
Nikola came to Canada before Aksana did. He was the eldest of five children and a young adult when his father Petr Strumbicky, then 60, heeded the call of the Canadian Government, offering free land to immigrants with hopes of putting a large “producing population” on the prairie lands of Western Canada. The government was anxious to establish a grain industry, and more importantly, to populate the prairies to prevent the Americans from annexing the region. Free land was offered to the immigrants. For a ten dollar registration fee, each family was granted 160 acres of land.
Petr Strumbicky, together with his wife, Irena Goyman, and their children came to Manitoba with the first group of 27 Ukrainian pioneer families that settled at the Stuartburn Colony, an area more familiarly known as Vita, today. The group sailed on theSS Sicilia, which docked in Quebec City in late July. They traveled by train to Winnipeg and spent a week at the immigration shed on the east side of the CPR station. By the time the exhausted colonists trekked out to their homesteads they had been traveling for two months. It was August and too late to plant a crop. These resilient people put their faith in God and each other. They carved homes out of the earth, and hunkered down to get through the winter with little more than their fierce determination to make it in the new country.
The land they settled had to first be cleared of stones and bush before they could plant crops.
All of the children worked alongside their parents, pulling rocks from the soil.
They suffered many hardships, but they stuck it out. Success was measured by mere survival, and in the small joys of laughing children, hearty meals, and time to visit to sing and tell stories with family and friends.
To this day, Mary, Bob and Lug share stories of their shared childhood. They consider themselves to have been blessed with memories of kindness, generosity and the strength of their grandparents.
In 1993, my parents celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary. I interviewed my mom and her cousins about those summer days long ago, for a family history film, called Korinchikeh. In this segment we get a glimpse of their special times together at Vita.
My mother, Mary (Bachynsky) Krawchenko, turned 80 on April 2. In honour of her birthday, I posted an excerpt from my novel, Ravenscraig. It is a chapter called “Stalwart Peasants in Sheepskin Coats” and is inspired by the story of Aksana and Nykola and their start in Canada.
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.