Mr John Hugo Ross was born in Glengarry Co., Ontario, 24 November 1875, and moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba with his parents when he was two years old. He was the son of Arthur Wellington Ross, Liberal-Conservative Member of the Canadian Parliament for the Manitoba Constituency of Lisgar. His father, a real estate broker, was involved in the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and in 1878 was elected a member of the Manitoba Legislature. He resigned his seat in 1882 to run for federal office, and was elected MP.

As a child John Hugo was described in the Winnipeg Free Press as "a rosy-faced boy in knickerbockers, riding his dog sled, or off skating. On Sundays and special occasions he was the little gentleman in a kilt." When he was still in his teens, his father got him a position working for the lieutenant-governor of Manitoba, James Coolbrook Patterson. He worked there for a year and left Winnipeg for Toronto where he went into business for himself as a mining broker. The firm failed, he had a falling out with his father, and in 1902, with 25 cents in his pocket, went off to the Klondike to pan for gold. By the time he got there he realised the rush was over.

When his father died, he inherited the family fortune and returned to Winnipeg to look after his widowed mother. Dapper and flamboyant, he had a sarcastic wit. He and realtor Thomson Beattie had offices across the hall from each other in the same Merchants Bank Building. Ross' secretary, Maud MacArthur, in fact, considered herself Beattie's fiancee. Ross, Beattie and Vancouver banker Thomas McCaffry sailed from New York on the Franconia on 20 January 1912. After two months in the Aegean and Egypt, Ross was feeling ill, and they decided to cut their vacation short. "We are on the last lap of doing the old lands and ready for Winnipeg and business," he wrote a postcard to friends in Winnipeg. Ross cancelled reservations on the Mauretania and booked Cabin A-10 on Titanic instead.When he boarded on 10 April 1912, he was so ill from dysentery he had to be carried to his cabin on a stretcher. The last person to see Ross alive was probably Major Arthur Peuchen. Peuchen made his way up the grand staircase and saw Ross still in his pyjamas. When Ross was told the ship had struck an iceberg and that he should get dressed, Ross refused to believe the trouble serious. "Is that all,?" he told Peuchen. "It will take more than an iceberg to get me off this ship." Presumably, Ross drowned in his bed. His body was never recovered, but a memorial plaque with his name on it can be found in Winnipeg City Hall.

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