Charles Melville Hays

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Charles Melville Hays

Birthdate: (55)
Birthplace: Rock Island, Ill, USA
Death: April 15, 1912 (55)
At Sea - Titanic casualty (Died in the sinking. Body recovered)
Immediate Family:

Son of Samuel Hays and Sarah E. Hays
Husband of Clara Jennings Hays
Father of Marjorie Hays; Louise Hays; Clara Gregg Hays; Agnes Hays and Orian Scott Davidson
Brother of Mary V. Hays and David Hunt Hays

Occupation: president of the Grand Trunk Railway
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Charles Melville Hays

Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online

  • Name: Mr Charles Melville Hays
  • Born: Friday 16th May 1856
  • Age: 55 years
  • Last Residence: in Montreal Québéc Canada
  • Occupation: Businessman
  • 1st Class passenger
  • First Embarked: Southampton on Wednesday 10th April 1912
  • Ticket No. 12749 , £93 10s
  • Cabin No.: B69
  • Died in the sinking.
  • Body recovered by: Minia (No. 307)
  • Buried: Mount Royal Cemetery Montreal Québéc Canada on Wednesday 8th May 1912.

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 company's 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. [See Titanica page for images and transcriptions of letters]

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...

...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 in various 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."

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."

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.

Notes 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.

Travelling Companions (on same ticket)

  • Mrs Clara Jennings Hays
  • Mr Vivian Ponsonby Payne
  • Miss Mary Anne Perreault

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)


  • Derek Boles, USA
  • Pamela Hamilton
  • Alan Hustak, Canada
  • Diane Lapierre, Canada
  • Hugo Normandeau, Canada
  • Hermann Söldner, Germany
  • Craig Sopin, USA
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Charles Melville Hays's Timeline

May 16, 1856
Ill, USA
August 14, 1882
Age 26
Saint Louis, Missouri, United States
November 18, 1884
Age 28
Illinois, United States
Age 28
Saint Louis, Missouri, United States
July 1887
Age 31
Missouri, United States
Age 32
April 15, 1912
Age 55
At Sea - Titanic casualty