Mayflower – Then & Now

There have been many stories written about the sinking of the “Mayflower” boat on Lake Kamaniskeg on November 12, 1912 with three men surviving and nine people drowning. 

The Mayflower was built in Combermere, ON in 1903 for two brothers, John Charles Hudson and Henry Edwin Hudson. She was built from oak, hemlock and local pine and was launched and commissioned in 1904. Her official registered number was 116861, gross tonnage of 58.86 and net tonnage of 38.02, length was 77′, breadth 18′, depth of 4′ and height of about 20′. It was almost a flat bottom wooden boat designed with shallow draught for navigating the shallow waters over some shoals and sand bars on the Madawaska and York Rivers. She was powered by two cross compound steam engines mounted amidships 3 1/2 ft. below the deck . J & R Weir of Montreal. Weir designed the Mayflower. The single rear paddle wheel was set into a cut in the stern and had twelve paddles. By the year 1912, the boat was not seaworthy and was not certified by the authorities. She had a previous sinking when it ran into a log “dead head” on the Madawaska River and partially sunk the year before. The boat had not been well maintained in the previous few years.

The Mayflower was used for freight, mail and limited passenger service between Barry’s Bay and Combermere, Palmer Rapids on the Madawaska River and Havergal on the York River. It also serviced the corundum mines at Craigmont in the Conroy Marsh waterway.

She had a crew of three – owner/Captain John Hudson, pilot/wheelsman Aaron Parcher and fireman/engineer Tom Delaney. It had no running lights and was not designed to be on the water at night. On Tuesday, November 12, 1912 the Mayflower had made what was to be the last return trip from Combermere to Barry’s Bay for the season but a local Combermere Councillor, William Boehme persuaded Captain John C. Hudson to make a second trip later that day to pick up the body of a brother-in-law, John Brown, from the Grand Trunk Railway station in Barry’s Bay to be buried in Fort Stewart before winter. John died as a result of a gun accident in Saskatchewan. There were twelve people plus the casket onboard the boat when she left Barry’s Bay. The life boat, a 28 ft “pointer” the same used by Ottawa Valley lumbermen had been left behind on this last voyage as it had drifted way on the first trip of the day, retrieved and left tied up at the dock in Barry’s Bay. Another incident that day was the Mayflower bumping into the ship Ruby at the dock in Barry’s Bay but the crew were able to push the Mayflower off the Ruby with little damage to either boat.

The boat normally operated at about 5-7 miles an hour and had left Barry’s Bay at about 7:00 p.m. The trip from Barry’s Bay to Combermere normally took about 3 hours. It was a very cold November night with high winds but bright stars were shining when they left the wharf. It began to snow at about 9:00 p.m. and between what is now called Mayflower island and the shore (about 40% to the island and 60% to the shore), the boat sank quickly for no apparent reason without warning. If she had provided some warning to the Captain and had another 30-60 seconds, she probably could have made it to shore which was about 600 feet away and everyone may have survived. It has been suggested that she went down for several reasons; (1) poorly maintained, (2) too shallow a draught and therefore subject to rough waves coming over the bow, sides and rear into the interior of the boat; (3) not being certified by the government agency; (4) the snowy, windy, cold weather that night; (5) pilot Aaron Parcher was not properly certified to operate the boat at that time with the required Master’s Certificate; (6) the modification to the paddles of the paddle wheel; (7) Oakum (caulking) disintegration between the ship boards; and (8) no cargo on bow to provide proper boat balance. John Hudson was also Reeve of Radcliffe Twp at the time and only 47 years old and Aaron Parcher was 26 years old.

The water level in 1912 at the point where the Mayflower when down was approximately 23 ft. The bottom is quite sandy with no rocks and no drop offs. The funnel, flagpole and two side posts with attached heavy cable were all out of the water. In fact, four men scrambled to the top of the wheelhouse and were waist deep in cold water. They clung onto the floating casket and set out to the island about 500 feet away which took about 2-3 hours due to the cold, windy and high waves. The rest is history as Ripley wrote at the time as ”a dead man saves three lives”. The other eight passengers [William Boehme (58), George Bothwell (27), William Murphy, Robert Pachal, Mrs. William McWhirter (80)] and crew [John Hudson, Aaron Parcher and Tom Delaney] drowned.

The boat that rescued the three survivors Joseph Harper, Gordon Peverly (56)  and John Imlack (29) on Wednesday, November 13th  from Parcher’s Island was called the “Ruby” and was owned by the Ontario Corundum Company Limited of Craigmont. A fourth person who hung onto the casket, Patrick O’Brien (59) died while getting out of the water at the island from hypothermia. The remains of the 41′ long, 9′ wide, 4′ draft Ruby is on the south shore opposite Mayhew’s Landing on the Craigmont Rd. The author has located and surveyed the boat and it has some of the hull intact, smoke stack, some sides and parts of metal and boiler. It was a single screw (propeller) driven type steam powered boat built by the same man who helped build the Mayflower. The Ruby was used to tow barges of corundum from the mines at Robillard Mountain north east of the entrance of the York River to the train in Barry’s Bay. The last owner of the Ruby was Henry Hudson who retired her in 1919.