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"In stories it's the end when somebody comes home. In The Railway Children it ends when father comes home from prison. In "The Jumblies" they all come back after twenty years away. But in real life things just go on. Now I'm not just myself but a "Titanic Survivor." This is like being a hero, but heroes are supposed to do brave things and I didn't do one brave thing. The only reason I am alive is luck, like a game of Patience."
Dorothy Wilton[3]

That Fatal Night: The Titanic Diary of Dorothy Wilton is a historical fiction book written by Sarah Ellis for the Dear Canada series. It is the twenty-ninth book in the series and is also Ellis's third in it. The book was published in September 2011 by Scholastic Canada. It was followed by Torn Apart by Susan Aihoshi.

A month after the sinking of the Titanic, survivor Dorothy Wilton recounts her experience in her diary.


"For Carmen and Winnie"

Book description[]

"May 2, 1912
I am not going to write about the
Titanic disaster. I am not going to write anything more about it, or talk about it, or think about it. The newspaper man at the train station said, "You're part of history now, kid." I am not. I refuse. I am a schoolgirl, not some old person in history.
But even though I do not want to write about the disaster, I am going to write about Wednesday, because it was not fair.
The first thing that I want to say is that I am not one particle sorry.

"Le 2 mai 1912
Je ne veux pas écrire au sujet du naufrage du Titanic. Je ne veux ni écrire à ce sujet ni en parler ni y penser. Le vendeur de journaux à la gare m'a dit : « Maintenant, tu appartiens à l'histoire, petite. » Je ne veux pas. Pas moi! Je suis une écolière, pas une espèce de vieil épouvantail comme dans les manuels d'histoire.
Je ne veux pas raconter la catastrophe. Je vais plutôt écrire à propos de ce qui s'est passé mercredi, parce que ce n'est pas juste!


In May 1912, Dorothy Wilton is given a diary from her teacher, Miss Caughey, after being suspended for the rest of the school year. Miss Caughey instructs Dorothy to write about her experience surviving the Titanic, believing it will help her. Dorothy starts writing, but only talks about the Titanic in the shortest of terms. She instead decides to elaborate on why she was suspended. Her classmate, Irene Rudge, apparently jealous of Dorothy's new notoriety, mercilessly tells her about what happened to the bodies of the drowned Titanic victims. Dorothy then slapped her, which caused Irene to trip and hurt her head. Miss Caughey begins visiting Dorothy every few days to deliver her school work.

Dorothy realizes that her two month stay in England now feels like a "play" and starts writing her memories like a play, calling it A Canadian Girl in England. In it, she calls herself "The Canadian Girl." Dorothy sets the scene as "Mill House," the name of her grandparents, Augusta and Henry, home in Lewisham. She recounts fun times with her grandparents, their housekeeper Mrs. Hawkins, and her twin children, Owen and Millie. Dorothy play acts The Three Musketeers with the twins, becoming Aramis to their Athos and Porthos. One day, Miss Caughey brings Dorothy a copy of The Railway Children. She begins to cry as she remembers meeting the author, E. Nesbit, a friend of her grandparents.

Finally, Dorothy starts writing about the Titanic after Miss Caughey suggests she begins with describing her cabin. She begins talking about Miss Pugh, an employee at the bank where her father works. Miss Pugh went to England to see her aging father and accompanied Dorothy on the way there. She confesses that she disliked Miss Pugh, but had resolved herself to be "pleasant and polite" to her before boarding the Titanic. Unfortunately, Miss Pugh was continually correcting Dorothy about every little thing. In the meantime, she made friends with their stewardess, Beryl Cope, and another girl around her age, Marjorie. Dorothy recounts her conversations with Beryl and exploring the ship with Marjorie.

Later on, Dorothy's mother, Esme, tells her about the newspapers printing conflicting stories regarding the Titanic before it was confirmed to be sunk. Dorothy wonders if the people who wrote those stories "[got] in trouble" over it. She starts writing about the final night aboard the Titanic but hesitates a few times. Dorothy reveals that she had an argument with Miss Pugh and threw her things around the cabin before going to bed. She believes that Miss Pugh drowned because of this. A few days later, Dorothy's parents surprise her with a visit from Beryl, whose ship has stopped in Halifax. She reveals that she had cleaned up the mess that night. Dorothy realizes that Miss Pugh's death was not her fault after all.


Five years later, Dorothy was slightly injured in the Halifax Explosion. Afterwards, her school was turned into a hospital and she helped distribute clothing. Dorothy went on to university but dropped out to take a job with a newspaper. She was first given fluff pieces, but eventually proved herself and was accepted into the "old boy's club." Desiring to put the Titanic behind her, Dorothy refused all interviews and rarely talked about it to family and friends. Interest in the Titanic was renewed in the 1950s thanks to A Night to Remember. Dorothy read the book and watched the film. However, at ninety-seven, she refused to see the blockbuster film Titanic, much to her great-granddaughter's disappointment.

Despite her Titanic experience, Beryl continued working as a stewardess. She experienced a second sea disaster in 1915 when the Lusitania was torpedoed by a German U-boat. Beryl survived and continued working on the sea. She and Dorothy kept up a correspondence. Supported by Dorothy's grandparents, Owen was able to attend university. He joined the British civil service, but was "very discreet about his actual job." Dorothy liked to speculate that he was a spy. Millie married a local boy after he returned from the Great War. They bought a confectionery and newsagent shop in London.

Historical Note[]

The section argues that the Titanic is so well known due to our culture's fascination with celebrity. Many of the first class passengers were famous and wealthy, such as John Jacob Astor and Benjamin Guggenheim. The historical note discusses class issues the disaster raises from a modern point-of-view. In 1985, the wreck was finally discovered on the ocean floor. Finding it confirmed how the ship sank, but many questions surrounding it will remain a mystery. There is also a postscript noting some of the real historical people, such as E. Nesbit, featured in the book. The section concludes with a collection of ten photographs, an artist's recreation of the sinking, and two maps of the Titanic and its route.


Main article: List of That Fatal Night characters
  • Dorothy Wilton, a twelve-year-old that survived the sinking of the Titanic. She struggles to record the events of that night as she writes in her diary.


Main article: Sarah Ellis

Sarah Ellis is a Canadian children's author known for her novels Pick Up Sticks, Out of the Blue, and Odd Man Out. Ellis has authored three Dear Canada books, including A Prairie as Wide as the Sea and Days of Toil and Tears. In the "Author's Note", Ellis wrote about her Titanic research and how she became obsessed with facts about the ship. Ellis recounted several stories of real passengers that survived or perished. She ends the section by saying that "our Titanic" of this century "is still under construction."



  • OLA Best Bets (2011) - commended[8]
  • IODE Canada Violet Downey Award (2012) - shortlisted[9]
  • Chocolate Lily Book Award, BC Children's Choice (2012) - shortlisted[10]
  • Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Award (2012) - shortlisted[11]
  • Best Books for Kids and Teens, Canadian Children's Book Centre (2012) - commended[10]


"The publisher would like to thank George Behe of Encyclopedia Titanica for his expert commentary on the text, and Barbara Hehner for checking additional details."


  • The portrait on the cover is a detail of the 1917 photograph "Young War Worker" provided by Getty Images/Keystone. The background is a detail of a 1982 painting by Ken Marschall.[12][13][14]


See also[]

Dear Canada

Orphan at My Door | A Prairie as Wide as the Sea | With Nothing But Our Courage | Footsteps in the Snow
A Ribbon of Shining Steel | Whispers of War | Alone in an Untamed Land | Brothers Far from Home | An Ocean Apart
A Trail of Broken Dreams | Banished from Our Home | Winter of Peril | Turned Away | The Death of My Country
No Safe Harbour | A Rebel's Daughter | A Season for Miracles | If I Die Before I Wake | Not a Nickel to Spare
Prisoners in the Promised Land | Days of Toil and Tears | Where the River Takes Me | Blood Upon Our Land
A Desperate Road to Freedom | A Christmas to Remember | Exiles from the War | To Stand On My Own
Hoping for Home | That Fatal Night | Torn Apart | A Sea of Sorrows | Pieces of the Past | A Country of Our Own
All Fall Down | Flame and Ashes | A Time for Giving | These Are My Words

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