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

In 1903 Napoleon Tessier, ship builder of Hull, Quebec, began construction of the paddlewheel steamer “Mayflower” in Combermere, Ontario for two brothers, John Charles Hudson and Henry Edwin Hudson. Built from local oak, hemlock and pine the boat was launched and commissioned in June, 1904.

The Mayflower had a crew of three: owner/Captain John C. Hudson (47); pilot/wheelsman Aaron Parcher (26); and fireman/engineer Tom Delaney (18).

On Tuesday, November 12, 1912, the Mayflower made what was to have been the last return trip for the season between Combermere and Barry’s Bay. Subsequently, a Combermere Councillor, William Boehme, persuaded the Captain to make a second trip that same day to pick up the body of his cousin, John Brown (28), from the Grand Trunk Railway Station in Barry’s Bay to be returned home for burial in Schutt before winter. John died as a result of a gun accident a few days earlier in Saskatchewan and his brother-in-law Robert Pachal accompanied the deceased on the trip from Yorkton. Unfortunately, the steamer’s lifeboat, a 28 ft “pointer” of the same design as used by Ottawa Valley lumbermen, had been left behind on the last scheduled voyage because it had been damaged on that first trip of the day. Consequently it was retrieved and left tied up at the dock in Barry’s Bay.

There were twelve people as well as the casket on board the Mayflower when she left Barry’s Bay at about 7:00 p.m. Normally the trip from Barry’s Bay to Combermere took about 3 hours traveling at 5 -7 miles (8.5 –11.5 km) per hour. It was a very cold November night with strong winds blowing under bright stars. However, the weather changed and a fierce snowstorm arose around 9:00 p.m., about the time that the boat rounded the “Narrows” of Kamaniskeg Lake. Halfway between what is now called Mayflower Island and the shore (about 600 feet away) the boat suddenly took on water and sank very quickly in 23 feet of water.

It has been suggested that she went down for several reasons: (1) poorly maintained; (2) too shallow a draught, and therefore subject to high rough waves coming over the bow, sides, and rear into the interior of the boat; (3) the stormy, windy, cold weather that night; (4) the modification to the paddles of the paddle wheel, causing a twisting motion; and (5) no cargo in the hold at the bow to provide proper boat balance.

Five passengers, William Boehme (58), George Bothwell (27), William Murphy (54), Robert Pachal (25), Mrs. Elizabeth McWhirter (83), and the entire crew drowned. Four passengers, Joe Harper (mid 20s), Gordon Peverly (26), Paddy O’Brien (60), and John Imlach (29), clung onto the floating casket and set out for the nearby island about 600 feet away. Due to the raging winds and rough waves it took about 2-3 hours before they reached the island at about midnight. Just as the four men reached land, Paddy O’Brien died from hypothermia. At about 6:00 p.m. the next day, the steamer “Ruby” rescued the three survivors, and the body and casket were recovered as well. The rest has become a historical footnote in the life of the Mayflower as Ripley in his “Believe It or Not Series” wrote at the time, ”The corpse that saved three men from drowning”.