Century-old Titanic disaster had Harriston connection

By Willa Wick in People

It took five years to build her. Over three million rivets held her hull together. Twenty-two tons of tallow and soap greased the slideway so there was no resistance as she glided into the water. A crowd of 100,000 gathered to watch the launch. And then she sank!
Through the passage of time, many vessels have sunk – but none have captured the attention of the media, the history buffs, salvagers and movie makers as much as the “ship above all ships,” the Titanic.
Until recently school history didn’t describe the tragedy in the curriculum. Now a class trip to the Artifact Exhibition (i.e. at the downtown Kitchener Museum last year) is truly an eye opening phenomena for student and adult alike.
In 1985, seventy-three years and many dives later, Dr. Robert Ballard “found” the legendary vessel and photographed her as she lay strewn across the ocean floor. A surge of interest followed the discovery and it wasn’t long before artifacts were being raised and souvenirs sold.
I wasn’t aware of the ‘wave’ hitting Ontario, but in a Florida newspaper of October 1995 was an advertisement: “purchase a piece of Titanic history.” It was a nominal fee for a personalized display case of a half inch lump of anthracite plus certificate of authenticity. I thought this to be a unique gift for my aging father’s birthday as he had been born three years before the sinking.
It was a lucky purchase 17 years ago for that type of souvenir is now over $45 for a non-personalized and not-so-artistically displayed hunk of coal from the sea depths. The Titanic departed with 5892 tons of coal aboard. The hungry furnaces consumed 825 tons per day. She was out four days so over half her cargo remained when she sank
It’s human nature to be fascinated with tragedy, thus the 1997 movie Titanic brought another surge of interest. But it was still another 10 years before my curiosity peaked after learning there was a Harriston connection to that maiden voyage.
George Edward Graham was born on a farm near St Mary’s. He worked as a hardware salesman in Galt, but in 1903 moved to Toronto when he joined the staff of Eaton’s department store. A year later Eaton’s opened a store in Manitoba and George was transferred to Winnipeg to manage the crockery and fine china department.
The Manitoba census of June, 1906 shows George Graham as a boarder with the Angst family.
In September he returned to Ontario where he married a Harriston girl, Edith May Jackson.
These particular Jackson’s relocated from Cartwright (near Peterborough), and when researching the lineage I was told, “No relation – they were the ‘other’ Jackson’s, and I believe they lived out in the area of the Terry Richardson farm.”
The couple was married in Harriston by Methodist minister Rev W.H. Graham (brother of the groom).
Attendants were a Jackson from Carberry, Manitoba (first name is obscure on the ancient records but the age/time line would fit to be a brother of the bride who might have gone to Manitoba because his future brother-in-law was there.
Female attendant was Mabel Kirkland of Galt. The newly-married couple returned to Winnipeg and took up residence at 31 Dundurn Place.
A son, John Humphrey, was born, but sadly the youngster died as a two year old. He was buried in the Graham family plot in St. Mary’s. Shortly after little Jack’s death Edith suffered a miscarriage and then severe bouts of depression.
After I learned all this information, the travelling museum on the Titanic was showcased in Kitchener. The entry ticket to the exhibit was a replica of the Titanic’s boarding pass. Each pass, which gave the holder “permission granted to come aboard,” had an original passenger’s name and description printed on the back. We three attending kept our fingers crossed that one of us would be George Graham, but that was not to be.
The 1997 movie was good fiction based on truth, but that three-hour museum journey was reality, and lured us to discover as much as possible. Near the end of the display were huge billboards listing the passengers and their status. Sadly all three of ‘us’ had perished. So too had George Graham.
Graham had been commissioned to go overseas on a buying trip for Eaton’s. He was hesitant to travel because of his wife’s failing health. But he did go, and while he was abroad Edith came home to Harriston to stay with her parents. On his return she was to meet him at his brother’s place in Toronto.
Graham had originally booked his return on another ship, but while in London, England he met up with a group of associates and they all agreed it would be fun to return via the Titanic’s maiden voyage. They enjoyed a few days of luxury.
Before going to dinner on the fateful evening Mr. Graham sent a wireless to his wife advising they would arrive in New York Wednesday morning, and that all was well.
At that point Mrs. Graham was on a train bound for Toronto. The next morning she heard the news of the sinking of the Titanic. Shes also received the telegram. She had no way of knowing that it had been wired before the ship went down.
In the days that followed there was much confusion as to the status of George Graham. This was compounded by the fact there were several Graham’s in first class. A representative from Eaton’s travelled to New York to get particulars. He found that George’s name was on the list of survivors.
Edith was about to journey to New York to meet her husband when she was officially informed that he had perished in the icy waters. His body had been recovered by one of the rescue ships.
This explained to me the ancient newspaper clipping buried among the pages of an old family book. The hardback volume, Every Day Cook Book and Family Compendium, had belonged to a bachelor cousin of my mother’s. There is no explanation, just what looks like a hurriedly cut out picture of George Graham with the heading “CANADIAN REPORTED LOST; IS SAFE”. The London Free Press is listed on the top, and on the reverse the date of April 17, 1912.
Why this cut-out was in Hugh MacMillan Smith’s cookbook remains a mystery. Perhaps they were friends. That’s a distinct possibility, but it will never be confirmed, as Smith, whose name appears on the Harriston cenotaph, was killed during the First World War.
There were two funerals for George Graham, one in Toronto for the benefit of the grieving Eaton’s employees, and another in Harriston. The St. Mary’s Journal of May 7, 1912 carried a lustrous funeral report: “One of the largest funerals ever witnessed at Harriston was held on Saturday upon the arrival of a special train from Toronto bringing the remains of Mr. George Graham. The train was made up of five coaches, including The Eatonia, the private car of the company president, Mr. J.C. Eaton. It arrived at the CPR depot at 11 a.m. and from which the remains were conveyed to the Methodist Church, where services were conducted, after which the remains were taken to the Harriston cemetery.” “All business in the town was suspended and the town flag was at half mast”.
Mr. Graham was buried in the Jackson family plot. Edith returned to Winnipeg but never remarried. She died in 1960 and was buried in St Mary’s beside her husband and son,
My story for the Rural Route readers has been penned for several months waiting for the issue to coincide with the one hundredth anniversary of the Titanic disaster. But it was incomplete. There was a missing link. How did George Graham get from Harriston to the St Mary’s cemetery?
Recently the Harriston Historical Society put out an appeal for anyone who had family anecdotes to contact a member of the society. These fragments of life can often be woven into historical material.
Within a week I was contacted by former Harristonian Erland Greenwood, who now lives in Listowel. She referred to the newspaper article and said, “I have a story that I firmly believe should be told.”
Mrs. Greenwood began to explain that there had been a gentleman with a Harriston connection who had been lost on the Titanic. “Oh, do you mean George Graham?” Two days later we spent the afternoon going over material she had collected many years ago.
Greenwood’s mother, Stella Carswell, had once told her a story about how her own mother and a friend Louise Williamson had travelled to Harriston from the Fordwich area by horse and buggy to attend the 1912 funeral of George Graham. Many times Erland explored the cemetery but could not find any trace of Mr. Graham. Finally she went to search the Harriston cemetery records for 1912 and to her satisfaction found that Mr. Graham had indeed been buried on the North East half of Lot 27K (the Jackson lot in Block K) on May 4, 1912. The cause of death was listed as “Lost his life on the Titanic at sea”. Written over this information was the fact that he had been removed to the St. Mary’s cemetery on July 13, 1933.
Mrs. Greenwood and her husband Howard travelled to St. Mary’s where cemetery records and a large tombstone confirmed this to be true. The names of Edith and their son John Humphrey also appear on the stone.

 

Erland Greenwood stands beside the Graham Family tombstone in St Marys Cemetery. Howard Greenwood photo

Erland Greenwood stands beside the Graham Family tombstone in St Marys Cemetery.
Howard Greenwood photo

Personalized  Anthracite Souvenir. Willa Wick Photo

Personalized Anthracite Souvenir. Willa Wick Photo

George Graham, London Free Press News Clipping

George Graham, London Free Press News Clipping