Canadian Stories

Baxter Family

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baxter.jpgWidower Hélène Baxter, her daughter Mrs. Mary Hélène Jane "Suzette" (they called her Zette) Douglas, and her son Quigg boarded the Titanic at Cherbourg. They had been vacationing in Europe, as well as looking after the family's investments.

They were booked into the second most luxurious suites on the ship, right next to managing director of the White Star Line, J. Bruce Ismay. Of the very few photos that exist of the interior of the ship, there are two from their staterooms.

One deck below the Baxters, in another first class cabin, was twenty-four-year-old Berthe Mayné, travelling under one of her stage names, Berthe de Villiers. She was a Belgian cabaret singer whom Quigg had met in Brussels.

The women in Quigg Baxter's life would not meet until he placed them all into lifeboat number 6, and he asked his mother and sister to look after Berthe.

"We could hear revolver shots all over and the confusion was terrible," Zette Douglas said. "The last I saw of my brother, Mr. Quigg Baxter, he was standing on deck fastening a life preserver around him. I was in a lifeboat then with my mother. Looking back from the lifeboats we saw the lights of one of the lower decks disappear under the water." Canadian First class passenger Mrs. F.C. Douglas of Montreal to Toronto Evening Telegram reporter J. G. Muir in New York after the Carpathia docked.

Frederick Charles Douglas, Zette's husband received a telegram from her sent from the Carpathia. It said 'Safe aboard the Carpathia, have you heard from Quigg?' Frederick Douglas travelled to New York to meet the ship. When he arrived he found a third woman with his wife and mother-in-law. The press were told that Berthe was a countess on a world tour and that they just happened to meet aboard the Titanic.

Zette and her brother Quigg were fluently bilingual, with a francophone mother and anglophone father. Hélène Lanaudière-Chaput Baxter was a direct descendent of Canadian heroine Madeleine de Verchères. She married James "Diamond" Baxter in 1882. He was rich and twice her age.

In 1892, James Baxter built the Baxter Block, an ambitious development on St. Laurent Boulevard just south of Pine Avenue in downtown Montreal. It has been called the first shopping mall in Canada. In1899, a promotional business publication, Men in Canada, described Baxter as "the largest private banker in Canada."

He was also a diamond merchant with a very checked past. Newspapers reported that he: evaded American justice in 1879 for fraud ; did it again in 1896 for smuggling diamonds; ran for Montreal alderman; 'kidnapped' one of his son's from his second wife; had fist fights in the court room and in front of his office on St. James St.; took action against others for ruining his good name (including the infamous Chicago Chief of Police McGarigle); and his name crops up in the reports of 4 different bank failures.

James Baxter was found guilty in the Court of Queen's Bench of conspiracy to defraud the defunct Ville Marie Bank of $45-50,000 on March 25, 1900. Baxter was sentenced by jury on March 31, 1900 to five years in the penitentiary. He died shortly after he was released from prison on January 30, 1905. He was buried under a majestic tombstone in the Notre-Dames-des-Neiges Cemetery in Montreal along with Quigg and Hélène. Zette is buried in a cemetery in California.

Read the The Real Canadian Love Story of the Titanic by CBC Live.

Special thanks to Elizabeth Jorgensen-Histed for her research.

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