Calgary couple's Titanic tale 0
It'll probably never win an Oscar or be re-released in three-dimensional glory - but a Calgary couple's real-life Titanic story all but sinks James Cameron's contrived Hollywood fairytale.
With the 1997 blockbuster back in theatres and the centenary of the iconic disaster days away, the saga of Albert and Vera Dick is a tale rife with love, death and disaster. Best of all, it's real.
"My grandfather talked about bodies floating around them - people who'd just died in the water."
For Bruce Van Norman, a retired engineer living Seattle, Calgary's Titanic connection is more than newspaper clippings and a gravestone, half-hidden under a bush in Union Cemetery.
For Van Norman, the desperate escape of Albert and Vera Dick from the crippled liner is ingrained in his memory as a first-hand account - the stories told to him as a boy, growing up in Calgary.
"My grandfather wanted me to hear what happened first-hand, so I'd know the truth," said Van Norman, Albert and Vera's only grandchild.
It's against long odds that Van Norman is here to recount the story of that frosty night in 1912, when the Titanic was ripped open by an iceberg, taking 1,514 people to a watery grave.
"I wouldn't be here if not for them," he said.
Newlyweds returning from a honeymoon in Europe, 31-year-old Albert was a wealthy hotel owner, keen to bring his 17-year-old bride and a cargo of brand-new furniture back to their Mount Royal mansion.
Van Norman says his grandparents at first didn't believe the calls to gather on deck, until a purser told them to evacuate.
"The weather was so cold, they went back down to their cabin - it was total disbelief, but then a purser came and hammered on their door and told them to leave," said Van Norman.
A century ago, Albert told newspaper reporters the same, saying he and his bride didn't think the emergency was real.
"At first we did not realize that the Titanic was mortally wounded ... I do not believe that anyone on her realized she was going to sink," said Albert.
Of course though, it did - and the two-hour-and-forty minute scramble between hitting the iceberg and vanishing under the waves has been the subject of countless books and movies.
For the Dicks, the bodies in the water brought the reality home, and when it became apparent only women were allowed in the lifeboats, it seemed death was their likely lot.
Vera was refusing to leave her husband's side, despite being offered space in the three different lifeboats. The young bride was determined to stay with Albert, even if it meant dying in the icy Atlantic.
Albert was hugging her, imploring her to go, when they were herded onto a lifeboat, ensuring they both escaped.
But it also ensured Albert spent the rest of his life quashing rumours.
"It was the same with men who didn't serve in World War One - those who failed to die were viewed with suspicion," said Van Norman.
Gossip circulated that Albert had worn a dress to slip aboard the lifeboat, and Albert eventually sold his hotel to escape the public eye.
"The Titanic defined his life," said Van Norman.
It seems Albert was likely innocent of cowardice. Contemporary newspaper accounts suggest a ship's officer rounded up a number of newlyweds, and ordered them aboard.
It wasn't the only controversy to involve the Dicks. Vera testified to hearing gunshots, and reports persist that some steerage passengers were shot trying to fight their way onto the lifeboats.
"We could see men jumping into the water and could hear terrifying screams and shouts of distress," Vera told the New York Herald, as reporters clamoured for news.
"We heard several rounds of shots echoing across the water and learned afterward that many men were shot down as the last boat put away."
Their lives were saved, but forever changed. Until he died in 1970, Albert had to defend his right to live, while Vera, who passed in 1973, never escaped the Titanic's legacy.
But as Van Norman says, they were in love, and their story is real. Truth is one of the reasons he's never seen Cameron's Titanic movie.
"I've never seen it. It's a fake. Isn't there something about a diamond necklace? Give me a break," said Van Norman.
"It's a fairytale."