Charles Melville Hays

(May 16, 1856 – April 15, 1912)

Another person of prominence was Charles Melville Hays, President of the Grand Trunk and the Grand Trunk Pacific railways. He was described by Sir Wilfrid Laurier at a dinner of the Canadian Club of New York, at the Hotel Astor in 1911, as "beyond question the greatest railway road genius in Canada, as an executive genius ranking second only to the late Edward H. Harriman". He was returning aboard the Titanic with his wife and son-in-law and daughter, Mr and Mrs Thornton Davidson of Montreal where he was scheduled to attend the April 26, 1912 grand opening of the Chateau Laurier hotel in Ottawa, Ontario.

Hays and his entourage were invited to be guests on the Titanic by J. Bruce Ismay, who was interested in discussing potential deals to be made between White Star Line and his transcontinental railroad.

An hour before the disaster, Hays relaxed with Colonel Archibald Gracie and Captain Edward Crosby in the Gentlemen's Smoking Lounge. Ironically, it was during this time that Hays made the comment "the trend to playing fast and loose with larger and larger ships will end in tragedy". Twenty minutes later the Titanic struck the iceberg . Despite the concerns, Hays believed the Titanic would stay afloat long enough for everyone to be rescued and was not worried when he placed his wife and daughter into the lifeboat.

Unfortunately, Hays was wrong and his body was eventually recovered from the waters of the North Atlantic by the Minia on 26th April and returned to Montreal, where he was buried. His son-in-law, Thornton Davidson, also perished in the disaster (though his body was never recovered), leaving two grieving widows in the family.

Trivia

Local Ottawa folklore suggests that Hays's ghost is rumoured to haunt the Chateau Laurier hotel that he was scheduled to open.

The private railway car, which transported his body home, is on display at the Canadian Railway Museum near Delson, Quebec.

In 1907 Hays was given Japan's highest decoration, the Order of the Rising Sun by Prince Fushimi.

In 1910 Hays was offered a knighthood but he had to turn it down because to become "Sir" would have meant giving up his U.S. citizenship.