For the Fortune family of Winnipeg, Canada, the first months of 1912 held a great deal of excitement. The family had spent months traveling on The Grand Tour of Europe, a popular trend of the middle and upper classes.
Mary McDougald Fortune, her husband, Mark, and their children Charles, Ethel, Alice and Mabel had seen the pyramids of Egypt, the canals in Venice, as well as the sights of Paris.
Two of the girls, Ethel and Alice, were engaged to be married. Their father, Mark, thought the experience of the Grand Tour would be the perfect way to “finish them off” before their respective weddings.
In addition, the girls purchased their wedding trousseaus from the prestigious Worth fashion house in Paris.
At the conclusion of the trip the Fortune family had planned to return home via the Cunard ocean liner the Mauretania.
Unfortunately, one of the Fortune’s traveling companions became ill with dysentery and the group found it could book an earlier passage home on the White Star liner Titanic, which was making its maiden voyage to New York.
Fortune had literally made a fortune in Winnipeg real estate, so he was easily able to spend the $26,100 (roughly $500,000 today) required to book first-class passage for his family of six.
A street in Winnipeg, Fortune Street, is named after Mark Fortune.
As first-class passengers, the Fortune family would have rubbed elbows with fellow Titanic passengers John Jacob Astor IV and Madeleine Astor, Benjamin Guggenheim, Countess de Rothes, Isidor and Ida Straus, actress Dorothy Gibson and Sir Cosmo, and Lady Duff Gordon.
The Titanic carried 325 first-class passengers, 175 men, 144 women and six children.
The Titanic set sail toward New York around noon on April 10, 1912.
At 11:40 p.m., ship’s time, on April 14, 1912 the Titanic hit an iceberg.
At 2:20 a.m. ship’s time, in the early morning hours of April 15, 1912, the Titanic sank.
More than 1,500 of the Titanic’s 2,224 passengers and crew died in the disaster. Only slightly more than 700 survived to be rescued from the Titanic’s too-few lifeboats when the Carpathia reached the scene more than three hours after the first distress call.
The Fortunes’ fate
At 1:20 a.m. April 15, 1912, the Number 10 lifeboat was launched. Among the occupants were Mary, Ethel, Alice and Mabel Fortune, as well as 9-week-old Millvina Dean, who became the last living survivor of the disaster when she died in 2009 at the age of 97.
Lisa McDougald of Valencia, a descendent of her great-great aunt Mary McDougald Fortune, said the women in the family gave Mark and Charles their money and jewels before they entered the lifeboat, assuming they would see them later in the morning.
Mark Fortune and his 19-year-old son, Charles, were never seen again. It is assumed they went down with the ship.
Weeks after the disaster, eldest son Robert Fortune (who declined the invitation to join the traveling tour) had to endure the horrific duty of searching for his father and brother as hundreds of the victims were recovered in the waters and laid out in a curling rink in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The bodies of Mark and Charles were never recovered.
McDougald first learned about her connection to the Titanic as a child.
“My mother wanted to know more about my father’s family and she wrote a series of letters to his aunts,” she said. “It was in 1983 when we learned about the Titanic connection.”
McDougald said she was 8 or 9 at the time.
“It was very exciting,” she said. “The first thing I did was look up the Fortune name in the book, ‘A Night to Remember’ by Walter Lord.”
Since she learned of her family history, McDougald has spent countless hours researching the disaster and her family’s connection.
Moving to the SCV
McDougald was the first child of a Big Bear area resident, born at the Bear Valley Community Hospital in Big Bear Lake and lived most of her childhood in Erwin Lake.
“My dad joked that there was only one other person in the hospital when I was born, a guy with a broken leg,” she said. “The paint was still fresh on the walls.”
McDougald had an idyllic childhood with horses, fresh air and freedom to wander and explore.
“My dad built the house we lived in,” she said. “I had a pony and used to ride all over Big Bear.”
Her father was an architect and worked for the county of San Bernardino in the office of building and safety, her mother was a medical transcriptionist, who worked in Apple Valley.
McDougald said her grandparents had lived in the area since the 1920s.
“My poem, ‘Lost My Heart’ is a window into my childhood home in Big Bear,” she said. “The pine needles, shag carpet and my Siamese cat.”
After her parents retired to Oregon, McDougald joined them and attended college. In 2005, she graduated with a bachelor’s in fine arts from Oregon State University in visual communications with a minor in writing.
“Writing has always been there for me. If I could do it over, I would probably get a history degree,” she said.
McDougald moved back to Valencia after graduation in 2006 to live with her favorite aunt, also a Fortune descendant.
Telling the story
McDougald has recounted her Titanic story in public presentations at Barnes & Noble Booksellers and continues to do research on the disaster.
During the 100-year anniversary remembrances, McDougald made contact with Canadian cousins, who also are researching the family ties to the disaster.
McDougald hopes to meet all her Canadian cousins one day and plans to write a book about the Fortune family and their lives after the Titanic.
She has published two articles with the Titanic Historical Society’s “The Titanic Commutator.”
Her first article was published February 2013 in issue 200. “Titanic Lives On” recounts her connection to the Fortunes and the Titanic.
Her second article, co-authored with Bob Rutherford, her cousin and Alice Fortune’s grandson from Nova Scotia, was published in 2015. In issue 210, “Fortune Family Member Debunks False Titanic Stories,” brought new information to the Titanic saga.
McDougald said an article published in the New York Times about the evacuation of the Titanic attributed to Mary McDougald Fortune was false.
The story purported to give an account by Mary McDougald Fortune witnessing J. Bruce Ismay leaving in a partially filled lifeboat, ahead of many women and children, including Fortune and her daughters.
The new information was discovered in an interview published in the Winnipeg Tribune with Alice Fortune’s fiancée, Charles Holden Allen.
Allen had come to New York to pick up the Fortune family survivors, who had refused all requests to speak to the press about the disaster.
Allen, who was incensed at what he believed to be inaccuracies in the newspaper’s reporting, declared that none of the Fortune family survivors had spoken to the press following their arrival in New York. He also disputed the Times report that the Fortune women had seen a man dressed as a woman get into a lifeboat.
McDougald and Rutherford said it is impossible to know the truth of the New York Times stories and if the family denials were an effort to distance themselves from the ongoing inquiries about the tragedy, or if the reports were not made directly by the Fortune women, they may have come from second or third hand sources.
“It was important to set the historical record straight,” McDougald said.