The Fortunes and the Titanic

There is currently a great deal of attention being paid to the sinking of the Titanic, since this weekend marks the 100th anniversary of the terrible maritime disaster. However, what is often overlooked is the fact that there was a Red Deer link to the tragedy. Ironically, it involved a family named Fortune.

Rev. William G. Fortune was the minister at Knox Presbyterian Church in Red Deer from 1906 to 1908. He then assumed a new position as the general secretary to the Alberta Temperance and Moral Reform League.

In the spring of 1912, Rev. Fortune’s brother and sister-in-law, Mark and Mary Fortune, and their children Alice, Ethel, Mabel and Charles, left for a grand tour holiday of Europe. As the finale to this ‘trip of a lifetime’, the Fortunes booked passage on the maiden voyage of the ‘greatest ship on Earth’, the Titanic.

The first part of the voyage went very well. The Fortunes greatly enjoyed their luxurious accommodations in the first-class section of the ship.

Then, just before midnight on Sunday, April 14, the great ship had a fateful encounter with an iceberg. Mark was one of the first to realize that something serious had happened. He woke his family, had them hurriedly dress, and then headed for the upper decks.

However, as the Fortunes approached the lifeboats, they were stopped. The officers told them that the mother and children could proceed, but that Mark would have to stay back.

At this point, Charles decided to remain with his father and board a later lifeboat. Mark joked that they would be fine, as he had brought his Winnipeg buffalo fur coat with him to ward off the cold.

The family was so sure that the parting would only be temporary that Alice, Ethel and Mabel handed several of their valuables to Charles for safekeeping. As the girls headed towards the lifeboat, one turned around one last time and called out to Charles, “Take care of father.”

Tragically, the family never saw each other again. Mary and her daughters watched in horror as the great ship sank. Before long, they realized that Mark and Charles had likely been lost to them forever.

According to Alice, the Titanic seemed to loom up as a black hulk against the horizon. Then, the great ship plunged from view. Mary and her three daughters then spent the next several hours in the bitter cold until they were finally rescued by the Carpathian.

Mary was not only very distraught over the great tragedy. Once she arrived in New York, she became very vocal with the media. She was particularly scathing about Bruce Ismay of the White Star Line.

She claimed that her lifeboat had contained a man dressed as a woman. This later caused a number of people to conclude that this had to have been Ismay. She was also one of the first quoted sources for the claim that the Titanic’s orchestra had been playing Nearer My God To Thee as the great ship sank.

Eventually, Mary and her daughters recovered enough to be able to return to Western Canada. Meanwhile, Rev. Fortune was deeply distressed by the loss of his brother and nephew. His health began to break down in the following months. In 1913, he resigned his job and moved to British Columbia.

Perhaps because of the uniqueness of their name and because of their extensive quotations in the press, the Fortunes were among the best remembered of the survivors of the Titanic. For some time, a rhyme was widely circulated about them:

“Why did the Titanic sink?

Because Miss Fortune was upon her.

And why was Miss Fortune on that ship?

Because John Jacob [Astor] asked her.”

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