It will be 43 years (November 12, 1912) on Saturday since the steamer, “ Mayflower,” foundered on Lake Keminiskeg, an expansion of the Madawaska River, taking nine people to their deaths —eight men and one woman. The boat was making a special trip from Barry ’s Bay to Combermere. The reason for this was to convey a body from the railway at Barry ’s Bay to Combermere for burial. Roads were almost impassable. Middle aged people may recall the tragedy and the dreadful hardships endured by the the survivors who spent a night and a day, soaking wet in wind and snow, on an island in the middle of the lake.
Only one of them is now living and he is Mr. Joseph Harper, who purchased Mr. Thom as Southgate’s bungalow, corn er of Church and Country Streets, about a year ago. A native of Beachburg, Mr. H arper was well known in the Ottawa Valley as a traveller for the wholesale grocery firm of H. N. B ate & Sons, Ottawa. In 1911, he switched to the Dominion Rubber Co., travelling out of O ttawa, and he was working for them when he boarded the ill-fated steamer at Barry’s Bay.
The following story is taken from a card and picture arranged by the three survivors as a memento of their awful experience: It was one of those wild nights, pitch dark and a high wind filled with, blinding snow. After thirty 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 its passengers. G. C. Peverley, Joseph Harper, J. S. Imlach and P. O’B rien 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’B rien died as he was being helped from the w ater. 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 that 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 was 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 the district were left without sons
This is the story of a dead man saving three people from drowning. The sinking of the sternwheeler Mayflower near Combermere marked the worst inland maritime disaster in Canada at the time the ship sank on November 12, 1912. Nine people died when the 77-foot-long flat-bottomed boat sank in Kamaniskeg Lake. But three survived – in a bizarre coincidence that made the news in Ripley’s Believe it or Not. “Dead Man Saves Three!” The dead man was in a casket on the deck that floated to shore while three desperate passengers clung to it.
The boat was making one last run of the season, at night, to accommodate a request to deliver the body to Combermere. The plaque marking the scene stands high on a hill in Lookout Park, just east of Purdy on Highway 62, near the Renfrew County border. Eighty meters below the hilltop, Kamaniskeg Lake spreads out in a panorama worth viewing in it own right.
Unfortunately, the text of the plaque has been obscured by some vandal who poured paint over it. However, a complete story is available in the on-line archives of the Pembroke Observer.
Renfrew County claims this disaster as its own, since the towns involved (Barry’s Bay and Combermere) are both in the county. However, the plaque is in Hastings County and the county border meanders down the middle of Kamaniskeg Lake, so we presenting the story here .
GPS co-ordinates: 45° 21′ 48.77″ N, 77° 41′ 19.96″ W (45.36333333, 77.68861111)
Street address: Lookout Point Road, off Highway 62, between Combermere and Purdy.