Mrs James Baxter (Hélène de Lanaudiére-Chaput) was born on 29th March 1862 in Joliette, Québéc and claimed the fabled French Canadian heroine Madeline de Verchères as an ancestor (1).
(Courtesy: Alan Hustak, Canada)
By the time Hélène was born, the family had social standing in Quebec but no money. In August 1882 she married James ("Diamond Jim") Baxter, a diamond broker and banker. They had three children, Anthony William, (1883), Mary (Zette) Hélène (4th April, 1885) and Quigg Edmond (13th July, 1887). The children were raised to speak French to her, and English to her husband. The family moved into a huge mansion at 1201 Sherbrooke St. W., which later became the head offices of The Corby Distilling Company.
Baxter Mansion, 1201 Sherbrooke St.
(Photo: Alan Hustak, Canada)
In 1892, James Baxter built what might be described as Canada's first shopping mall, putting 28 stores under a single roof in the Baxter Block on St. Lawrence Blvd. He opened his own Ville Marie Bank, and by 1898, Men in Canada described him as the country's largest private banker "a philanthropist who devoted a large share of his accumulated wealth to improving the outlying districts of Montreal."
Baxter Building, St Lawrence Blvd.
(Photo: Alan Hustak, Canada)
The family's reputation fell apart in 1900 when her husband was arrested, charged and convicted of embezzling $40,000 from his bank - a fortune at the time. He was jailed for five years, and died in 1905 shortly before his 66th birthday. Mrs Baxter was well provided for. Her husband had investments in France, Switzerland and Belgium. She sold the mansion and moved into a comfortable brownstone at a still respectable address, 33 St. Famille St., near the McGill University Campus.
In 1911 she sold the Baxter Block and took her son and her married daughter 'Zette Douglas with her on another of her frequent excursions to Europe. They booked passage home on one of Titanic's most expensive suites, B 58/60, which cost £247 10s 5d. Before boarding Titanic they stayed at the Elysee Palace Hotel; Paris. They boarded the Titanic at Cherbourg (ticket number PC 17558).
Mrs Baxter was ill with nausea during most of the voyage, and found the throb of the engines relaxing. When the ship stopped in mid-ocean, she had an anxiety attack. Her son, Quigg, carried her up the Grand Staircase and put her and his sister into lifeboat 6. As he kissed them goodbye he gave his mother a sterling silver brandy flask so she might keep warm on the open ocean, and she berated him for his drinking.
After the disaster, she returned to Montreal and never recovered from the effects. She died in her apartment on 19th June, 1923 and is buried in the Baxter family plot in Notre Dame de Neiges cemetery.
(Phot: Alan Hustak, Canada)
1. According to the story taught in school, in 1692 Madeline tricked a raiding party of Iroquois indians into believing an unarmed stockade was heavily guarded. The indians fled, a massacre was avoided and her family were given title to an entire county north east of Montreal that still bears the name Lanaudiére.
References and Sources
Montreal Gazette, 20th June, 1923, Obituary
Contract Ticket List, White Star Line 1912 (National Archives, New York; NRAN-21-SDNYCIVCAS-55) Alan Hustak (1999) Titanic: The Canadian Story. Vehicule Press. ISBN 1 55065 113 7
John Baxter, Canada (Quigg Baxter's nephew)
Phillip Gowan, USA
Alan Hustak, Canada
Hermann Söldner, Germany