From this beautiful scenic lookout at Dafoe Park overlooking Kamaniskeg Lake, a person can easily view the location where the steamer “Mayfower” sank on November 12, 1912. Interestingly, the Combermere Heritage Society found several government documents from that time period that had the spelling listed as “Lake Kaminiskaik”.

The Mayflower, which was locally-built in Combermere (launched in 1904), was making the last return trip of the season back to Combermere from Barry’s Bay. The crew had picked up a casket containing the body of John Herman Brown from the train. Family of the deceased wanted the body returned for interment in the Schutt United Church Cemetery, south of Combermere. Brown was from the community and died in a shooting accident in Yorkton, SK a week earlier.

There was a crew of three men and nine passengers, including one woman from Fort Stewart, on board the 77’ x 18’ wooden sternwheeler boat. A terrible winter storm with blowing snow came up unexpectedly as the steamer rounded the “narrows” seen in the lake just north of the islands. At 9:00 p.m. the flat-bottomed boat sank in just 30 seconds in 23 feet of water onto a sandy bottom. Four passengers, Paddy O’Brien, Joe Harper, Gordon Peverly, and John Imlach were able to scramble to the roof of the wheelhouse where the water was up to their waists. The casket floated from the deck and the four men hung onto the casket and swam with it, reaching the smaller island on the right at midnight. Joe Harper had a cigar lighter and the men were able to keep warm by building a fire with debris from the boat and branches found on the island.

Due to the heavy snow falling during the night and all the next day, the three survivors on the island heard and barely saw the steamer “Ruby” pass by several times during the afternoon of the 13th.. The Ruby was owned by the Canada Corundum Company of Craigmont. It wasn’t until nightfall that the survivors took burning branches from the fire and waved them in the air to get Captain Dugal Gates’ attention. The captain and crew picked up the three survivors (Harper, Peverly and Imlach) as well as the body of O’Brien who had died of exposure upon reaching the island.  Also retrieved was the body of passenger William Murphy that had washed up on the island shore and the casket containing the body of John Brown. It took two trips for the Ruby to transport the survivors and bodies to the warmth of the Hudson House Hotel in Combermere. Several years later in 1971, Ripley in his famous “Believe it or Not” stories wrote the event up as “The Corpse That Saved 3 Men From Drowning”. In total, nine individuals drowned in this tragedy – one of the largest loss of lives in an inland waterway in Ontario.

Several days after the disaster, hard-hat divers from Ottawa located and retrieved all but one of the other people who were on the steamer. George Bothwell’s body was found on the shore of the lake April 24, 1913.

The location of the steamer Mayflower remains is marked with an arrow and inset photo of the steamer. The GPS location is 45o 23’ 36” N, 77o 41’ 24” W. Another way to locate the steamer is to travel by boat approximately 1/2 way between the smaller island on the right, and the shore. When the two islands appear to come together, the Mayflower will be below you. The complete hull from the deck to the keel, boiler, paddlewheel and two engines with driveshafts are all still intact but the superstructure boards are in a debris field on both sides of the steamer. The Mission House Museum in Combermere has a large collection of artifacts from the Mayflower as well as many photos and stories about the tragic event.

A PROJECT BY THE COMBERMERE HERITAGE SOCIETY INC. AND THE MUNICIPALITY OF HASTINGS HIGHLANDS – 2013