Mr Charles Melville Hays

Charles M. Hays

Mr Charles Melville Hays, 55, was born at Rock Island, Illinois, USA, on 16 May 1856. He was educated at the public schools of Rock Island, and went to work for the Atlantic and Pacific Railway when he was 17. At 22 he was appointed secretary to the Manager of the Missouri Pacific Railway.

He married Clara Gregg in St. Louis Mo, 13 October 1881, and they had four daughters.

In 1889 he was appointed general manager of the entire Wabash Railway network. In 1896 he moved to Montreal to become general manager of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. It was Hays who convinced the Canadian Prime Minister, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, of the need for a second transcontinental railroad. To this extent, the Canadian government subsidized the Grand Trunk to the tune of $30-million, and in November 1902 construction of the railroad began. The company's board of directors in England, however, were more concerned with dividends than with risky expansion. Financing proved chaotic, and at the end of 1911 the railroad was 100-million in debt. Hays went to England for a directors meeting where he proposed to spend the companys way out of bankruptcy by upgrading rolling stock, double tracking and by building a chain of luxury hotels across Canada. Hays had already built the flagship hotel, the Château Laurier in Ottawa, and had plans for six others, including the Fort Garry in Winnipeg and the Macdonald Hotel in Edmonton.

He arrived in England "looking fagged and tired," according to Alfred Smithers, Chairman of the Grand Trunk's board of directors. He was supposed to spend Easter in Paris with his daughter and son in law, Thornton and Orian Davidson, but in a letter to friends in Montreal on April 1, said he preferred to stay at Smithers country estate in Kent before sailing home on 10 April on the Titanic. The recipient is unknown, partly because the letter is so hard to decipher, it is possibly Lockett Gavin Coleman, asst. superintendant of the Grand Trunk Railroad but the informality of the letter suggests it was to a close friend or relative.

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(Courtesy and © Craig Sopin,USA / Courtesy: Alan Hustak, Canada)


Dear [?Marin / Mavin] I thought you would be interested in seeing the decision in the [?Flessen - a law suit of that time] case + so enclose you the synopsis of same which please keep for my scrap book after you have read. We have been most fortunate in our weather since coming They say I always bring sunshine + the facts seem

to prove it. For the second time Clara + I spent the week end at Knockholt returning to London this morning. Yesterday Mrs Hubert Clara + self motored down to Brighton for lunch had an hour there to look around and got back for eight o'clock dinner A run of over 100 miles! Thornton + Orian are in Paris + expected us to join them there for Easter + then sail from Cherbourg but we have concluded

we would like Knockholt better so shall stay here + sail via SS. Titanic on our return April 10th Clara has done well in going out, only missed one dinner so far + that Mrs [?Farsonns / Faesonns]. Dined at Sir Henry Jacksons Thursday tonight [?dine] with Smithers + theatre afterwards. I am deserting her + [???] with Sir Fd. v. Schuster at Brooks. Club! We dine at Lord Welbys Wednesday. Have just being to lunch with Lord Grey. Clara is

well and I have been feeling much better, my dispepsia practically all gone- Mrs Smithers + Eva are still at [?Mentone] + will not be home in time to see us. I hardly know when this will reach you so will send your Uncle Jim my love to Cousin Jane + himself + to to rest of the folks. I hope you are feeling all right again.


C.Mel. Hays

While in England he recieved news that the third of his four daughters, Louise, was having a difficult pregnancy and might have to be delivered by Ceasearean section. ANother reason for his return was the imminent opening of the Château Laurier Hotel on April 26. Travelling with him would be Paul Romaine Chevré, the sculptor who had done the bust of Laurier that still stands in the lobby.

In his business dealings Hays had had discussions with the White Star Line about speeding travellers from Europe to the Orient using White Star ships and his transcontinental railroad. As a result, J. Bruce Ismay invited Hays and his entourage as guests aboard Titanic. They paid £93 10s to cover incidental expenses, travelled on ticket number 12749, and occupied four cabins: B-69-71-73 and B-24. (Mr and Mrs Hays in B-69, Thornton and Orian Davidson in B-71, their maid Miss Perreault in B-73 and Hays secretary, Vivian Payne, in B-24).

One hour before the disaster, Hays relaxed with Colonel Archibald Gracie and Captain Edward Crosby in the Gentlemen's Smoking Lounge and they talked about the technological advances in transportation. At one point, Hays conceded that while Titanic was a superlative vessel, he expressed concern that "the trend to playing fast and loose with larger and larger ships will end in tragedy." Twenty minutes later, Titanic struck the iceburg. Hays never believed the ship would sink quickly. As he put his wife and daughter into a lifeboat he assured them Titanic would stay "afloat for at least 10 hours."

Hays drowned in the disaster, but the Minia recovered his body on 26 April. "It was no trouble to identify him as he had a lot of papers on him and a watch with his name on it," sailor Francis Dyke wrote to his mother. His coffin was brought back to Montreal for burial aboard his private railway car, Canada. The car is still preserved and on display at the Canadian Railway Museum near Delson, Quebec.

Simultaneous funerals for Hays were held on 8 May at the American Presbyterian Church in Montreal...

(Courtesy: Alan Hustak, Canada)

and at the Church of St. Edmund King and Martyr in London. At 11:30 a.m. on the day of the funeral, as the Montreal Herald Reported:

"From Montreal to Chicago, from New Brunswick to the Pacific coast, in all the thousands of miles of sidings and branch lines owned and operated by the Grand Trunk Railway, in every Grand Trunk Depot, at every Grand Trunk crossing, action ceased for the space of five full minutes as the Grand Trunk Railway system paid its respects to the memory of its great departed chief. For five minutes activities were suspended and the thousands of individuals who serve the great system invarious capacities bowed their heads in silent tribute. Then once more work resumed, the wheels turned, and in 30 seconds things had been as they had before."

Courtesy: Alan Hustak, Canada

Hays is buried in the Pine Hill Section, (Lot 246) of Montreals' Mount Royal Cemetery. A massive monument is inscribed: "And so he died and the example of his simple, devoted consecrated life is our priceless heritage. We are a different people, we are a better people, because this man worked and loved and died."

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Courtesy: Alan Hustak, Canada Courtesy: Diane Lapierre, Canada  

The town of Melville in Saskatchewan and Hays in Alberta, Canada are named for him, and a statue in his memory was erected in Prince Rupert, B.C. which would have been the Pacific terminus city of the transcontinental railroad he had planned to build.

In 1919 the Grand Trunk Railroad was placed in recievership, and later was absorbed into Canadian National Railways.

In 1907 Hays was given Japan's highest decoration, the Order of the Rising Sun by Prince Fushimi, and in 1910 was offered a knighthood but turned it down because to become Sir Charles would have meant giving up his U.S. citizenship. His Japanese decoration can be seen today at the Lyman House Memorial Museum in Hilo, Hawaii.

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Lost in the Titanic
News of the World  (1912) 
Charles Melville Hays (1)
Charles M. Hays - Studio Portrait
Charles Hays' photo and letters at The Chateau Laurier Hotel, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Gérald-Godin Building, Montréal

Articles and Stories

Chicago Tribune (1912) 
Shore Press (1912) 
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Denver Times (1912) 
Toronto Daily Star (1912) 
Newark Evening News (1912) 
The Times (1912) 
Chicago Examiner (1912) 
Worcester Telegram (1912) 
The Toronto World (1912) 
New York Times (1912) 
Newark Evening News (1912) 
The Evening Telegram (1912) 
New York Times (1910) 
The Gazette (Montreal) (1909) 

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Charles Melville and Clara Hays (16 posts)

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Derek Boles, USA
Pamela Hamilton
Alan Hustak, Canada
Diane Lapierre, Canada
Hugo Normandeau, Canada
Hermann Söldner, Germany
Craig Sopin, USA

References and Sources

Newark Evening News, 16 April 1912, Word Received Here of C. M. Hays?s Rescue
Record of Bodies and Effects: Passengers and Crew, S.S. Titanic (Public Archives of Nova Scotia) (#307)
W. Stewart Wallace, MA, FRSC Encyclopaedia of Canada Vol. III , University Associates of Canada, Toronto
Alan Hustak (1999) Titanic: The Canadian Story. Véhicule Press. ISBN 1 55065 113 7
Dictionary of Canadian Biography, 1911-1920, Volume 14, University of Toronto Press, 1998.
Contract Ticket List, White Star Line 1912 (National Archives, New York; NRAN-21-SDNYCIVCAS-55[279])
Marriages, births, deaths and injuries that have occurred on board during the voyage (PRO London, BT 100/259-260)
Search archive British and Irish newspapers online

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(2019) Charles Melville Hays Encyclopedia Titanica (ref: #154, updated 17th September 2019 04:27:01 AM)