Matt Hemmingsen (1876-1967) Memoirs: Lake Cowichan Float-home; Democrat Wagon for Old Logging Horse Billie

Our last post of Memoirs saw Humbird-Weyerhaeuser continue Matt Hemmingsen’s employment despite his taking an extended “family leave”; quite the unusual accommodation for 1907. He repaid such patience by clearing the company’s long standing logjam on British Columbia’s Tsolum River. Shortly thereafter, he quit the job on-the-spot, on account of a horse.

Humbird had called him west from Wisconsin, during the 26th Presidency; that of the Republican, Theodore Roosevelt, for his hands-on expertize in logging. Canada was matched with its 7th Prime Minister; the Liberal, Sir Wilfrid Laurier. At the same time, Conservative Sir Richard McBride was Premier of B.C.; a vast resource-rich province that was only three dozen years old.

Marvelous opportunity awaited Matt’s pioneer spirit. Little did he know, sunny days were about to displace the many craters of heartache that he had known in his youth.

Note: The next section has columns – WordPress’ Reader does not display them. Please go to “Visit Site” to continue reading in our intended format.


From Mathias Hemmingsen’s Memoirs

“For transportation for myself between camp and booming ground (4 miles) I used the old company horse and a Democrat Wagon. The Superintendent, on his tour of inspection in April, ordered me to dispose of the horse immediately. The reason was the high cost of hay and oats. I was satisfied in my mind then that to try to stay on with this man would only mean to be fired, so I quit my job then and there.

Descendant Notes

This passage continues in the Comox-Courtenay area.


Matt’s first abrupt quit was at 18; 1894, in the midst of economic depression, just to follow pals. He vowed never to quit again without a job at hand; a pledge not kept, yet he never lost momentum. He quit on Harry’s death and on the Upper Mississippi river drive, over noisy gambling in the logging camp.

I spent the following six months in the north country sort of aimlessly and finished the holiday in northern Idaho, where the IXL had large lumber operations and I knew Mr. O.P. their manager, intimately. He brought me along on a tour around the several operations which were then in full swing, and as a new camp was to be opened up he asked me to take charge there, which I accepted gratefully.

IXL refers to another Humbird-Weyerhaeuser operation; likely that in Sandpoint ID. So, the firm overlooked his quit for the horse.

Matt’s actual logging experience covered many northern US states.

FAMILY MATTERS: Matt was still recovering from Caroline’s death. Sandpoint ID is under 75 miles from Spokane WA where his sister, Etta Church, then lived. Brother Ed, Anna and George were still in WA State.

I put in the winter there, but nostalgia for the Pacific Coast prevailed in a marked degree; so in April 1909 I landed back to within a few miles of my starting point of a year previously, and took on a log booming contract which paid me very well. Later on in the summer I had a chance meeting with E.J., the manager of the old company. He seemed pleased to see me and wanted to know about my welfare, etc. After hearing me out he said, “I want you to go back to your old job at Camp and you will be your own boss – your salary will be raised.” I finished my contract and took over at camp.


This time for nostalgia. Yet, his bridges never burned and Humbird re-rehired him. Descendants cannot imagine anyone holding grudge against this most competent and kindly gentleman.

Matt was working under a subordinate of E.J. Palmer when he quit over Billie. We will hear of E.J. again.

Old Billie the horse was still there eating hay and oats. No one knew the whereabouts of the Superintendent.


On June 2, 1910 I married Margaret Naysmith Alexander, the best girl in the world.”


This ends Part XI of the Memoirs of Matt Hemmingsen.


This, in our “Family History” by Matt’s son, John: “After Matt’s second arrival in Chemainus, he travelled by horse and buggy to Courtenay…” suggests that Billie was a dedicated horse, or company car. We suspect that Billie found his last pasture quite close to Matt. Our father, reminiscing for the book pictured below, said of the family float-home that would shortly come on Lake Cowichan:

Cover in Forest Green

On shore were large maple trees and under one was a large rugged horse drawn work-wagon. I have often thought of that wagon and what a wonderful historic vehicle it would have been if it had been saved for today.

John Hemmingsen in “Family Trees, The Growth of a Forest Community, Lake Cowichan 1944-1994” © Copyright Barbara Olson, Rolli Gunderson 1994. Page 103


We also suspect that the rugged work-wagon of Dad’s own nostalgia, was actually the one that Matt used. We have no photo of the exterior of that float-house to imagine the scene. Luckily, columnist and chronicler extraordinaire of Lake Cowichan and environs, Rolli Gunderson, kindly led us to the Hemmingsen Float-Camp.

Float-camps were deployed to shores of forest, awaiting cut. The much larger home was elsewhere on the lake, in a somewhat cleared area, where the maple grove stood, shielding Billie’s wagon between the shore and the forest. We invite readers to colorize the black and white in the palette of the adjacent sequel.


Historian Gunderson informed that Frank Green was the first permanent settler at Lake Cowichan. He drove a model 1886 Democrat Wagon along the old Cowichan Trail, with one of its destinations, the Riverside Hotel. That Inn would later be acquired and run by Matt’s brother, Ed Hemmingsen, as will be topical in an upcoming post. The Green property is still in family hands and the wagon, meticulously restored to original beauty.

See the entire wagon; Billie urges a click for its splendid restoration in action. Enjoy its life story riding the old Cowichan trail.

Now, Billie’s wagon was likely more rugged, but he was glad when Matt was his driver. We imagine that many a time, Matt reined Billie to the side, to allow the more elegant Green vehicle to pass by, with its passengers.


Matt’s quit for nostalgia is perfectly understood in the color picture of the Ardley home on Lake Cowichan. He had brought Caroline to nearby coastal Chemainus. After a lifetime compressed into a few years, he returned there, with Margaret, where our father was born, and thence to Lake Cowichan.

Granddad and Dad remain at Lake Cowichan. And dear Aunt Marie’s booties. Booties in which she once stood, on shore of that float-home, in the maple grove, next to the Democrat Wagon of Billie the logging horse, so well cared for, by her father.4

Left: Hemmingsen Logging at Cowichan Lake B.C., ca. 1912. Matt emigrated from Norway in 1887, was logging in the Wisconsin woods at twelve and migrated to Vancouver Island in 1906. Our woods pioneer retired in 1946 after significant innovation. CLICK for our broader genealogy and Memoirs of Matt Hemmingsen (1867-1976).

Please leave comments, questions and corrections below.

Notes and Sources

1 The “Memoirs of Mathias Hemmingsen – Victoria B.C.” is a 25-page volume dictated to his daughter Margaret Henrietta circa 1956. It is unedited and unpublished, and graciously provided by Mathias’ grandson, Matt via the Matt Hemmingsen Family Collection. This post covers pages 19b to 20a. The work is protected here and published at copyright © 2018-2019. All rights reserved.

2 Family Trees The Growth Of A Forest Community, Lake Cowichan 1944-1994 © Copyright Barbara Olson, Rolli Gunderson 1994. Published by 50th Anniversary Book Committee Box 1, Lake Cowichan B.C., Canada V0R 2G0

3 One Of A Kind Creative Woodcrafting owned by Dave Byers at

4 Picture of booties gratefully received from the Orcutt-Tomlin-Hemmingsen Family Collection by dear cousin Margot.

8 thoughts on “Matt Hemmingsen (1876-1967) Memoirs: Lake Cowichan Float-home; Democrat Wagon for Old Logging Horse Billie

  1. I believe we have a photo of the float house with some of the family in front. And, the Parlor Grand Piano, that I understand was on the float house, remains in the Hemmingsen family. It is is good shape, sounds marvelous and is still loved and in use. Hopefully a fourth generation will someday learn to play piano on the beautiful old piano.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s