Dining room furniture bound for the Château Laurier DID NOT sink with the Titanic.
The Haunted Walk uncovers new evidence that decisively settles the matter.
Charles Melville Hays had the Château Laurier built as part of the expansion of his railroad empire. While visiting Europe in 1912, he personally selected the dining room furniture for the hotel. He booked the cargo to travel with him onboard the Titanic. On April 15th, Hays perished in the disaster while the furniture sank into the Atlantic. The opening of the hotel had to be delayed due to the loss of the furniture.
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Are any parts of the legend true?
Yes. Hays spent some time in the UK and perished in the Titanic tragedy shortly before the Château Laurier was set to open. Also, the opening of the hotel was delayed (more below).
How far back can the story be traced?
The story was first printed in 1990, when a reporter from the Ottawa Citizen spoke with a tour guide from the hotel. As there is no written account of the story from the previous 80 years, it seems likely that the tour guide misspoke, was misheard or simply made an error.
The first written account of the sunken furniture – Ottawa Citizen, August 5th, 1990
Was any furniture listed on the Titanic’s cargo manifest? Was any of the ship’s cargo connected to Hays?
There is no specific reference to the Grand Trunk Railroad, Château Laurier or Charles Melville Hays in the Titanic’s cargo manifest. Hays’ ticket did not list any furniture or cargo. There was only one shipment in the Titanic’s hold that explicitly contained furniture which was headed to a company in New York City. We can find no link between that company and the Château Laurier.
Was Hays always planning to travel back on the Titanic?
No. Hays was originally scheduled to depart on another ship from Cherbourg, France. He changed his travel plans three days before the Titanic departed. This last-minute switch would have made it logistically and financially challenging to move furniture to Southampton, England in time to be loaded on the Titanic. This presumes there was any storage space available so close to the departure date. If the furniture was already booked to ship out of Cherbourg, would Hays take on the trouble and expense to have it travel with him?
Charles Melville Hays
What do we know about Hays’ time in the UK?
Hays was quite ill during his time in the UK and did not travel much, which would have made furniture shopping difficult. Once healthy, he was busy trying to convince the Grand Trunk’s board of directors to fund his railway expansion plans and “networking” with other transportation giants. Dining room furniture for the Château Laurier is not mentioned in any of his correspondence from the time.
Given his position, would Hays have been the person to purchase and ship dining room furniture?
As President and General Manager of the Grand Trunk Railroad, picking out dining room furniture would be far below Hay’s station. We know from his correspondence with Sir Wilfrid Laurier and his business partners that he was a visionary, not a details man who only dealt with the highest level issues.
Was the opening of the Château Laurier delayed because of missing dining room furniture?
There is no evidence to support that claim. The Château Laurier was scheduled to open on April 26th, 1912 but was delayed until June 12th. By all accounts of the time, this was due to the tragic loss of Hays. There is no mention of missing dining room furniture.
What is the most critical piece of evidence to sink the myth?
The Ottawa Terminal Railway was in charge of the building and operation of the Château Laurier. The subsidiary kept very detailed financial and meeting records. They were extremely precise when it came to the Château Laurier’s budget – down to the cent. After the Titanic tragedy, an emergency meeting was held to replace Hays, who also served as the OTR’s president. This was the only major action taken. There was no additional budgeting for furniture in the aftermath of the tragedy. Therefore, it is extremely unlikely that the company lost anything other than its President.
Interested in learning more about the Château Laurier?
Be sure to listen to our Haunted Talks podcast (above) which has additional details not included in this article. We also share the Château Laurier’s ghost stories every night on our Original Haunted Walk of Ottawa. The sources below are additionally very useful and interesting.
Critical Sources, Accession Numbers, and Locations, collated by Chief Researcher and Second Vice President of the Château Laurier Research Department, Ezra Beudot.
Chateau Laurier: A Splendid Century: The Life and Times of Ottawa’s Grand Railway Hotel, Kevin J. Holland, 2017.
Meet me at the Château: A Legacy of Memory, Joan Rankin, 1990.
“Roomy History: Tours of the Chateau Laurier Illuminate the Past,” Ottawa Citizen, Aug. 5, 1990.
Ottawa Terminal Railway Minutes Book, R231-1020-0-E (LAC)