Two passengers of the Titanic were returning from France to New York. Charles Hays, the general manager of the Grand Trunk Railroad in Canada had commissioned Paul Chevre to prepare a sculpture of Canadian Prime Minister Sir Winfred Laurier with the goal of placing it in a place of prominence in the lobby of the new hotel being built by Grand Trunk in Ottawa. The unveiling of the bust was to take place upon their return. Hays died in the sinking of the Titanic while the famous French sculptor had been lucky enough to gain a seat in the lucky Lifeboat No. 7. Chevre only made it two more years before he died in Paris in 1914.
This account from Chevre was published in many newspapers of the day:
"Captain Smith got band back to the big dining room to play when Titanic struck. They had finished their evening program some time before. Mr Chevré saw that the lowering of the boats which took along the people on the ship appeared not to be appreciating the danger they were in. Chevré said an officer asked him to get into a lifeboat to set an example. This he did, and was followed by five or six other girls, two of whom he believed to be the Missess Fortunes of Winnipeg. Mr Chevré stated that a few minutes before the ship sank Captain Smith cried out, "my luck has turned," and then shot himself. I saw him fall against the canvas railing on the bridge and disappear."
From The Encyclopedia Titanica:
The story also quoted Chevré as saying that the statue of Laurier destined for the Chateau Laurier hotel had been lost in the sinking. It was a dramatic read, but a total fabrication by a reporter who either didn’t understand French or made the whole thing up to sell papers.
Chevré arrived in Montreal on April 22, and stormed into the French language daily, La Presse, to set the record straight. Everything that had been written about him in English, he complained was “a tissue of lies. He denied saying Captain Smith had committed suicide, and said Laurier’s bust was safe. “The marble bust weights 7,445 pounds. How do you think I could have had it in my cabin? Good Lord! The bust is safe. It is actually aboard the Bretagne. ” The Herald, which printed the original story insisted it certainly did not fake Chevré’s account, but allowed that since its reporter didn’t speak French very well, “he might have misunderstood Mr Chevré’s rapid fire narrative.”
Chevré remained in Quebec for six months after the sinking and obtained the commission to do the statue of Marianne which stands outside the Union Française in Montreal facing Viger Square. Then Chevré who spent each summer for 14 years in Canada returned to France and never sailed again.
He died in Paris on 20 February 1914. “Paul Chevré was a passenger on the ill-fated Titanic,” read his obituary in the Montreal Gazette, “and although he survived the shock, it is doubtful he ever recovered from it.”
There was a good reason for Hays to want to commission a bust of Sir Laurier, as the Prime Minister had thrown his support behind awarding the push to the Pacific coast across the prairies to Grand Trunk Railroad.
“…the federal government of Sir Wilfrid Laurier had decided to promote the building of a second transcontinental railway. On the failure of the GTR and the smaller, prairie-based Canadian Northern to unite on such a project, Ottawa threw its support behind the GTR. On 24 Nov. 1902 Hays formally announced plans to construct a transcontinental.”
Hays did not live to see the GTP completed: he perished in the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. Sanctified by this tragic end and by his high social standing in Montreal, including membership in the American Presbyterian Church, he was eulogized as one of Canada’s greatest railwaymen. On 25 April 1912 work and movement on the GTR’s entire system stopped for five minutes in tribute. Hays’s legacy, however, was mixed. He presided over the most prosperous era in the history of the GTR, but as president of the GTP he initiated policies and programs which led in 1919 to the GTP being placed in receivership and to legislation authorizing federal acquisition of the GTR’s capital stock. During the proceedings of the board appointed to value this stock, it was alleged that Hays had deceived the London directors in 1903 and that they had never knowingly endorsed the scheme that led to the insolvency and nationalization of the entire system.
The cable ship Minia was used to recover 17 bodies from the sinking including that of Charles M. Hays, President of the Grand Trunk Railway.