Ottawa Valley Culture

A DEAD MAN SAVES THREE LIVES - The Mayflower Story

This story was written by the 3 survivors:

Yes, that’s exactly what happened about nine p.m. on the night of November 12, 1912 in Lake Kamaniskeg on the Madawaska River, between Barry’s Bay and Combermere, when the good ship Mayflower went down.

It was one of those wild nights, pitch black and a high wind filled with blinding snow. After 30 years, the horror of it all comes back vividly and it seems like a bad nightmare, but the picture is still too vivid for the survivors even to forget it.

When the Mayflower went down, it carried with it all but four of it’s passengers, G.C. Peverley, Joseph Harper, J.S. Imlach and P. O’Brien clung to a coffin containing the body of H. Brown which was brought from Yorkton, Sask. for burial in Combermere. After three hours in the water, they reached a small island in the centre of the lake on which there was no shelter. Now, however, there were only three survivors as P. O’Brien died as he was being helped from the water. The next morning the three survivors found another body on the shore, that of R. Pachal, who had come from Yorkton in charge of the corpse.

Very many people who read this will remember this disaster, as in all, nine persons were drowned, as the Mayflower sank so fast, they did not have time to get out of the cabins and engine room. One of the ironies of fate was A. Parcher, the pilot, attempted to swim to shore and near his own home, he was found in shallow water, practically with his feet on the bottom, dead but it through this that those on the island were rescued. The body of George Bothwell was not recovered until the following April, so altogether many homes in eh district were left without sons or fathers.

Troubles never come singly. When they landed, they attempted to light a fire with the aid of a gasoline lighter. It slipped from numbed fingers and was lost in the snow, and no amount of digging around with half frozen hands could find it until noon the next day, when they managed to get a small fire lighted, but the memory of that bitter cold, fireless night still will live in the memory of the survivors. The only fuel was some boxes and driftwood which came ashore from the boat.

Search parties combed the neighbourhood, but on account of the snowstorm, they passed the island several times at only a short distance, without seeing the signals which, were made and eventually when word of the finding of Parcher’s body reached Combermere, the small steamer Ruby set out again and brought the survivors to the Hudson Hotel in Combermere after a terrifying night of horror that had burned itself deeply into the minds of those who lived to tell the story.

The victims of this disaster were:

  • J.C. Hudson, Combermere, Ont., owner and engineer
  • A. Parcher, Combermere, Ont., pilot
  • J. Delaney, Barry’s Bay, fireman
  • George Bothwell, Ottawa, passenger
  • R. Pachal, Yorkton, Sask, passenger
  • P. O’Brien, Combermere, passenger
  • Wm. Boehme, Combermere, passenger
  • Wm. Murphy, Rockingham, passenger
  • Mrs. McWhirter, Fort Stewart, passenger

To learn more, visit the Mission House Museum & Gallery in Combermere, or visit them online: www.missionhousemuseum.com/

David Kelley