The Code of Ethics’ North-of-the-Border Connection

Postcard promoting Winnipeg as the site of NAR’s 1913 annual conference. (NAR Archives)

As you may know by now, 2013 is the centennial year of the REALTORS® Code of Ethics.  And this month marks the official birthday of the Code:  On July 29, 1913, at the annual convention in Winnipeg, Manitoba, NAR’s board of directors got their first look at the much-anticipated Code and adopted it for use by the association’s members.

One of the first questions many REALTORS® ask when they find out about the Code’s origins is:  Winnipeg?  Why Winnipeg?

To get to the answer, it should first be explained that for many decades, the Winnipeg REALTORS® Association, along with several other local and provincial real estate associations in Canada, were members of the National Association of REALTORS®.

The National Association’s mission as stated in its 1908 constitution was to “unite the real estate men of America” — meaning North America, not just the United States.  A proposal to change the word “National” to “International” in NAR’s name was hotly debated at the 1912 convention, but the legal and strategic implications of such a move were seen as too much for the fledgling association to take on.  Instead, the constitution was revised in 1912 to say “unite the real estate men of North America,” eliminating any confusion about the status of Canadian members.

In the late 1930s the National Association expanded its territory to include the United States, “the Territory of Alaska, the Territory of Hawaii, the Philippine Islands, Canada, Mexico, and Cuba.”  Winnipeg and other Canadian real estate boards left NAR in 1943 to join the newly-formed Canadian Real Estate Association, but Canada still remained part of NAR’s official territory, at least on paper.  It wasn’t until 1959 — during NAR’s annual convention, held that year in Toronto — that Canada was finally removed from the territory described in NAR’s constitution.

Flyer for delegates at NAR’s 1912 convention, promoting Winnipeg as the 1913 convention city. (NAR Archives)

So how did Winnipeg in particular come to host the 1913 annual conference, where the Code of Ethics was first introduced?  Today, the site of NAR’s annual convention is usually decided years in advance.  In the association’s early days, however, one of the highlights of each annual convention was a contest to decide which city would host the next year’s meeting.   Delegates at the Board of Directors’ meeting would offer invitations from their cities, speeches would be made and much debate ensued over the merits of one city over another.

At the 1912 convention, held in Louisville, KY, three cities were in the running to host the 1913 meeting:  Atlanta, Cincinnati, and Winnipeg.  All three lobbied hard for the honor of hosting the next national REALTORS® convention, but in the end, Atlanta and Cincinnati didn’t stand a chance.  A few months before the Louisville meeting, the R.M.S. Titanic famously collided with an iceberg during its maiden voyage and sank in the Atlantic Ocean.   Among the 1,502 passengers lost were three REALTOR® members from Winnipeg:  Mark Fortune, J. Hugo Ross, and Thompson Beattie.  It was in their memory that the 1912 delegates chose Winnipeg to host NAR’s 6th annual convention.

Frederik Heller

Managing Director of Information Services at the National Association of REALTORS®.

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  1. Brad Knapp

    As well as being a REALTOR and Vice Chair of the NAR PS Committee, I am a steamship buff and have read extensively about the Titanic tragedy. It is interesting to me how things in life intertwine. I speak about Mr. Fortune and the Winnipeg Convention when I teach the Ethics class here in Ohio. I bring you the fact that in 1913 about the only way the convention delegation could get to Winnipeg was by train, most likely with connections through Chicago. There weren’t many paved roads back in 1913 especially in Alberta, Canada.

    As a footnote, I attended the 75th anniversary of the Titanic held in Wilmington Delaware in 1987. Although they were all old, there were about 7 or 8 survivors present including Mr. Fortune’s daughter who was in her 90′s at the time. I just recently was able to connect the dots.

    Brad Knapp, Lebanon, Ohio

  2. Thank you for sharing this interesting information. Things have changed drastically since then and still are. During my forty years in Real Estate since 1973 I had not ever heard this story. Either I just missed it or no one traveled that far back in history. I love things like this.
    Also, when I first began in Real Estate I had to “earn” the privilege and designation of being a Realtor.

  3. It is really good to be a member of a professional association that has a Code of Ethics that is 100 years old, and still viable. Ethics is even more important in today’s market when so much contact is via technology. The real estate industry has changed very much since I received a broker license In 1972. Keeping up with the changes is easier because of all the ethics, and education available today.

  4. This is very interesting. In all the classes I have taken for the Code of Ethics this was not covered. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Being a Titanic maniac, I learned something I didn’t know! You find little tid bits in the oddest places don’t you? Thanks for sharing. I got my broker’s license in 1977 and overall most of the decisions of the NAR have been great. I do take umbrage with “representing” someone in the same sense a lawyer does. On the oldest tablets real estate transactions are recorded. Some are extensive and over 6,000 years old. For 6,000 years the term “Broker” and “brokering” were clearly defined. A Broker while brokering is expected to treat EVERYONE who is a party to the transaction with fairness and diligence and answer all questions truthfully. It was good for over 6,000 but we changed it. I find this a decision by the NAR that was poorly thought out and has nothing to do with ethics. That is unless you think lawyers are ethical.

  6. DeeAnna Brown

    Interesting information, thank you.

  7. Mark Fortune, J. Hugo Ross, and Thompson Beattie, each a Realtor back in 1912, and The Code of Ethics, established in 1913, really come to life with the narrative
    provided. Thank you, Frederik Heller, for sharing your research!

    Danya R. Wolf, Realtor since 1976

  8. kishor vyas

    wow… that is interesting …. that there were three real estate agents in the Titanic boat…. thanks for sharing

  9. Leslie D. Klepner

    I am sure Canada and America share the same beliefs when it involves democracy.
    How lucky we are to live in two different countries with the same idea’s in the code of ethics.

  10. Joan

    This was very important because many were scammed into thinking they were purchasing land that did not exist.

  11. Venita Brannon

    This is the first time that I’ve heard this story about the titanic. It was very interesting.

  12. William Jajesnica

    Very interesting history

  13. I enjoyed learning this interesting history

  14. I enjoyed learning this interesting history.


  15. Thank you for this interesting history

  16. Very interesting story. I had not heard about the three Realtors on board the Titanic.

  17. I enjoyed reading the story. It was very informative and entertaining.
    Thank you

  18. T.C. Cooksley

    Thank you for this enlightening tidbit of Realtor History. Very interesting.

  19. Lucia Diaz

    Thank you for the information. Very interesting!

  20. Lisa Klepp

    Thanks…very nice

  21. Andrea Vandermast

    Very interesting read!

  22. Cherie

    Thank you

  23. Very Interesting!

  24. Very Interesting!!

  25. Rosemarie DeMaria

    Very informative necessary to stay current & be aware of any changes.

  26. Peterson A Oliveira

    Thanks for sharing the history

  27. thank you

  28. Interesting real estate History

  29. Gerald Richter

    I am a history buff and enjoyed Fred Heller’s side bar information relating to past Realtors.

  30. Gerald Richter

    Interesting information that I had not known.

  31. Bob Kelley

    Interesting History

  32. Like the History

  33. I loved the history of the beginnings of

  34. susan j cox

    Thank you for this information, very interesting.

  35. george rada

    you never too old to learn, history

  36. Jon Eccles

    Thanks, enjoyed the history lesson.

  37. Marci DeJULIO


  38. Sonia M. Castaneda

    Very informative explanation about the starting point of the NAR.

  39. Kathleen Hooker

    Taken these classes online and at the Board (40 years) and never heard this information
    before. Thank you for making this course more interesting.

  40. Raymond Wittschen


  41. Sun Lippold

    Most of my family members live in Canada and yet I had no idea that the US Code of Ethics had started in Canada! I find it quite interesting! It’s been said that “learning never stops…” so I learned something new today! Thanks.

  42. Thank you this was very enjoyable.

  43. Mike Montemurno

    Thank you for education

  44. Thank You, I have learned so much about the history of the NAR that I wasn’t aware of.

  45. Sandra Fong

    Very interesting and historical.

  46. Fascinating glimpse into the past… thank you for sharing this info!