The Tragic Steamer “MAYFLOWER” Story

Tuesday, November 12, 1912 was a dismal day for the residents of the small community of Combermere. The steamer “Mayflower” which was built and launched in this community in 1904 sank in the large part of Kamaniskeg Lake.

Earlier that same day the steamer made a return trip in the morning and was suppose to be the last trip of the season but a fluke event changed all that. The Mayflower arrived back in Combermere at about 3:00 p.m. It did not have it’s pointer-style lifeboat as it had been damaged at the Barry’s Bay dock and Captain “Jack” John Charles Hudson decided to leave it there. William “Tailor” Boehme, a counselor for Radcliffe Township and good friend of the Captain telephoned Hudson in Combermere and convinced the Captain to make one more trip to bring the body of John Brown to Combermere to be interred in the Schutt cemetery before the winter frost. Brown was originally from Schutt and related to Boehme. The Captain at first was reluctant to make the second trip but finally agreed to it. They set out from Combermere at about 3:00 p.m. At 7:00 p.m. after having a meal at the Balmoral Hotel, the Mayflower left the wharf in Barry’s Bay for Combermere with a crew of 3, nine passengers and a casket containing the body of Brown who accidentally shot himself in Yorkton, SK.

When the Mayflower left the wharf at Barry’s Bay, it was a cold autumn night and there were threats of a snowy winter storm looming. When the Mayflower rounded the “Narrows” of Kamaniskeg Lake at “Squaw Point”, a fierce blowing snowstorm began, with very rough water and as the boat ventured down the lake about ¼ kilometre from the Narrows, the boat took on water and sank in less than a minute in 23 feet of water. It was now 8:30 p.m. Four men were able to get up onto the wheelhouse roof and hung on to the floating casket that was located on the forward deck and swam for three hours pushing the casket to a nearby island. By midnight one person died of hypothermia upon reaching the island and the other three survived and were picked up the next day by the steamer “Ruby”. Nine people perished in this tragic event. Later in the week, all other bodies were recovered by divers except one. George Bothwell, an Ottawa traveling salesman wasn’t found until April 1913. In total, nine people lost their life in this tragic event and was the largest loss of life on an inland waterway in Ontario for many years.

At the time, Ripley in his “Believe It or Not Series” wrote it up as “The Corpse That Saved 3 Men From drowning”.

The photos with names around the sides of the plaque represent those people who were on board the Mayflower when it left the wharf.

A Project From the Combermere Heritage Society Inc. – Nov. 2012