«Titanic»: The Canadian Story


224 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-55065-113-7
DDC 910'.91634






Reviewed by Sarah Robertson

Sarah Robertson is editor of the Canadian Book Review Annual.


Of the 1320 passengers aboard Titanic on its doomed maiden voyage, 130
(82 of whom died) were bound for Canada. This account of the tragedy,
which began life as an article the author wrote for the Montreal
Gazette, is based on “newspaper accounts, court transcripts, oral
histories, official testimony, relevant letters, and diaries,” and is
intended, as Titanic authority John P. Eaton notes in the book’s
foreword, to “[bring] an end to the decades old oversight and neglect
of Canada’s Titanic passengers.”

Like the passengers in toto, the Canadian contingent was a microcosm of
society. Among those traveling first class were Charles Melville Hays,
president of Canadian National Railway; Harry Markland Molson, bon
vivant and scion of the beer-brewing clan; and the Fortunes, a Winnipeg
family who were “part of a smug and complacent crowd with an imperial
perspective on the world.” The second-class passengers, composed
largely of upper-middle-class professionals, included a rubber merchant,
a chemist, a realtor, a building contractor, and one of the youngest
surgeons ever to graduate from the University of Toronto’s medical
school. Among the Canada-bound third-class passengers were a shoemaker,
a baker, a couple of farm-hands, and a woman who had a premonition of
disaster. Sharing her apprehension was a woman in second class who, when
she saw a newspaper headline boasting of the ship’s indestructibility,
declared, “This is flying in the face of God.”

Unhappily, the worrywarts were in the minority. Hubris was the order of
the day. “The odds of being killed in a White Star ship,” Hustak
writes, “were calculated at one million to one.” A man whose body
would be found in a lifeboat a month after the disaster wrote to his
mother, “We are changing ships and coming home in a new, unsinkable

Hustak provides a straightforward, though by no means definitive,
account of the Titanic’s fateful collision, the “grossly
inefficient” evacuation procedures, the newspaper coverage of the
disaster, and the grisly search-and-recovery efforts. Of the latter,
Hustak writes: “Even in death social protocol was preserved. Those
bodies identified as being from third class were stacked in a heap on
deck. Second class dead were sewn into canvas bags, and those from first
class were laid out in coffins.” At the U.S. Senate investigation into
the disaster, Toronto millionaire Major Arthur Peuchen provided
compelling testimony regarding White Star’s negligence. In the
afterword, we learn the fate of some of the Canada-bound survivors, the
last of whom died in 1993.

Black-and-white photographs are interspersed throughout the text of
this handsomely produced book, which is recommended for Titanic
aficionados and readers interested in Canadian social history.


Hustak, Alan., “«Titanic»: The Canadian Story,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 21, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/2390.