“On June 2, 1910, I married Margaret Naysmith Alexander, the best girl in the world.”
– The Memoirs of Mathias Hemmingsen – Victoria B.C. ca 1956.1
COME ALONG ON A STROLL WITH THEM …
… in beautiful Comox Valley. Our feet will be comforted in crunch of wee twigs, on soft mossy carpet along our trail through a cathedral of trees. Hush the music of our happy chatter; hear the trickle of streams. It is painted in conifer green, fern green, moss green. Green, with delicate woods’ flowers surprising our eyes. Catch glimpse of mountains crested with snow, all in crisp moist breath of the sea, ever changing its tide, nearby…
… take tea at the restaurant of Courtenay Hotel … lay a picnic basket for St. Andrew’s church social,2 … by courtesy of the Courtenay and District Museum and Archives.3
… and open their weekly to “Comox Items“, to read the news of their day… thanks to The University of British Columbia Open Collections, BC Historical Newspapars.4
WHAT THE FUTURE WOULD HOLD
We know the harsh realities of his youth. We need not rehash hers, because, as she shared them with her mother, they were captured at the end of our post on her ancestry: The Great Wall of Margaret.5 Except to say, while her “Tragedy” and “Catastrophe” were now behind, the year-to-come would bring another grief for her. And one for him.
By “this time next year” they would have a daughter. She came two months before Margaret’s step-father passed and he died one week after her mother bore their last child.5 That same year, Matt would lose his step-brother to drowning. Ah, but a glorious decade-and-some would pass, bringing four more children, before old equal opportunity “Disaster” dare knock at their solid door.
We can tell you now, Margaret would assure that sunny day was finally Matt’s constant forecast and he would return the favor. The huge Norwegian, fifteen years her senior, towered over his Scot-Canadian. We never learned their sweet nothings, for by the time we came along, he called her Mum, and she, him Dad. Thus we were gifted our grandparents; two gentle souls united in a loving, long adventure, one most exciting, one tempered serene.
ONLY BY LUCK OF THE CAT AND THE MOUSE
When Matt returned to British Columbia from Wisconsin in 1907, it was to the Comox Valley to attend to the Tsolum River logjam. We recall he then quit his job because of Billie the Logging Horse, as well, he was pining over his deceased Caroline. That led to wandering and a job in Idaho – oh no; out of country! Restless to relocate to gorgeous Vancouver Island, he quit that job too, and landed back in Comox Valley’s little city of Courtenay.
As it was, Margaret’s second family, that with her step-father, had left the more southerly Nanaimo region of her birth, for Frank, which is now in Alberta – oh no; out of province! The Frank Slide forced their return to Vancouver Island around 1904, when they settled in Comox Valley’s small village of Cumberland. All, except for Margaret. She was dispatched to her Howat aunt in Victoria.6 Oh no; way down island! Isabella Howat (Alexander) was her father’s sister. Dad tells that Margaret attended North Park School on Douglas Street. Soon her potential income was needed at home, such that she traded places at the Howats with her younger sister, Agnes (later, Mrs. Theodore Drummond). Once home and fourteen, Margaret began waitressing. By 1909, she was doing so at the Courtenay Hotel, when Matt happened by. Yes, she was there.
WHO WOULD WEAR THE PANTS?
According to another tidbit from cousin Matt, although Margaret was young and poor, she was very wise.2 She had not known this older smitten foreigner from Wisconsin very long, this up-and-coming Norwegian Lutheran. She requested evidence that he was indeed, a widower, with no one waiting back home. There is no evidence of that evidence scene, but he professed “Presbyterian” on their marital document. 7
EARLY LIFE OF THE BEST GIRL IN THE WORLD
On January 28, 1891, Margaret Naysmith Alexander was swaddled in the Nanaimo home that her parents shared with the Howat household, then of four, all from Scotland.5 Her earliest challenge was to take in their West Central Scots and speak out in Canadian.
The Howats continued to produce cousins, but by century turn, moved to Victoria, then on to Seattle. However, Marion Gillies Baxter immigrated soon after April 1891.5 She was Margaret’s mother’s older sister who married Daniel Stewart. A line of Stewart cousins followed. Thus, the best girl in the world grew up surrounded by the warmth of a large family network from both her Alexander and Baxter parents.
The Stewart’s first child was born in 1893, in the same Nanaimo locale. She was also forenamed “Margaret Naysmith” (later, Freeman).7 The cousins, Margaret Naysmith, two years apart and of mining fathers, took their toddlerhood fun around Departure Bay. Two teenaged Margaret Naysmith would likewise find themselves conspiring in Cumberland.
Now, the Cumberland News said “a number of friends and acquaintances drove down from Courtenay”. We can still wonder of the time and place, if by horse and buggy, or by car. We could wonder again, on the why of that old Democrat Wagon, later treasured under a maple tree, onshore of a certain float-home on Lake Cowichan.5
No family was mentioned and theirs was likely a small affair. Besides, weddings of common folk in the day, were more often home events or in a manse, while some walked the aisle of church. We can imagine a scenario of sweet embrace for Margaret at home, before heading off to Courtenay. She was the eldest Alexander sibling, at nineteen. Agnes was likely in Seattle and Sam had to clock in for a very long day, as mule driver in the coal mine.5 Her mother was left to tend to her sick husband and their young Mitchell children. We wonder, though, if Margaret Naysmith Stewart was allowed off from her job as furniture sales person, to attend.
It is puzzling that Matt’s brother Ed Hemmingsen, was not mentioned, for he, Anna (Tobias), and their son, George, were in Comox Valley by 1909.8 Ed had been best man for Matt’s first wedding. It is not puzzling that Matt would have had little time to make other strong friendships in his limited interval in B.C. His support, Matt Piercy, was identified in their marriage document as Matt F Piercy of Courtenay. We believe he was from a long established farming family and a close associate of the Pastor, Thomas Menzies.9
Our bride’s attendant, Margaret Miller was perhaps, more revealing of her teen friendship circle. Miss Miller was identified as a Cumberland resident. With little competition in the census for an age appropriate namesake, one lived within seven minutes of walking.8 The Millers were on Maryport at 2nd and our Mitchell family, on Allen, between 3rd and 4th. Margaret Naysmith Stewart’s home was in-between, on Derwent. Margaret Miller (later Coe) was, at minimum, a co-congregant at St. Andrew’s. How wonderful if she were truly a longtime friend with whom Granny had shared her childhood moments of abandon.
That may seem as too much guessing. Three of four censuses show that Mrs. Miller (born Ellen Marshall) emigrated with her children in 1890, from Lanarkshire.8,10 So did Margaret Donaldson Baxter, who became Mrs. Alexander, ultimately, Mrs. Mitchell. They had lived in different Scotland towns, but the two families tracked from Nanaimo in 1901, to close proximity in Cumberland by 1911.8 Oh, the Stewarts did too. Unfortunately, ship passenger lists were not well preserved for the Canadians of their time, to determine if Ellen Miller and Margaret Baxter had, by chance, been ship mates.
FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION
When Matt and Margaret married, his parents were passed, as well was Margaret’s father. They were Ole Mathias Hemmingson (1851-1903), Berith Hass Mathisdatter (1853-1887) and John Alexander (1862-1896). The couple would enjoy Margaret Donaldson Mitchell (Alexander, born Baxter), until 1931. We must never forget a loving grandmother in Scotland; Margaret Baxter, born Naysmith, who would have been a great grandmother to Matt and Margaret’s children until 1919.2
With this backdrop on the happy couple, a later post will continue Matt’s Memoirs.
Left: Hemmingsen Logging at Cowichan Lake B.C., ca. 1912. Matt emigrated from Norway to Wisconsin in 1887 at eleven and went logging the very next year. He migrated to Vancouver Island in 1906. Our woods pioneer retired in 1946 with significant innovation. CLICK for MATT HEMMINGSEN (1867-1976) MEMOIRS.
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 is from page 20. The work is protected here and published at copyright © marleewein.com 2018-2019. All rights reserved.
2 Church Social and Evidence Request, gratefully received from Matt Hemmingsen, son of Robert Mathias Hemmingsen, last child of Matt and Margaret Hemmingsen.
3 The Courtenay Museum, Courtenay, B.C., CA. https://www.courtenaymuseum.ca/ The Courtenay Museum and Archives: for “Courtenay Hotel, early 1900s” or CDM #984.30.1 found at https://www.courtenaymuseum.ca/comox-valley-history/our-holdings/photo-gallery/hotels-inns-gallery/ and from “The Museum’s Blog”, Category: Before Television, “Perpetual Calendar” or CDM #985.4.1 ; at https://www.courtenaymuseum.ca/before-television-perpetual-calendar/
4 The University of British Columbia Open Collections, BC Historical Newspapers Collection. The Cumberland News, Cumberland, B.C. Publisher Walter Birnie Anderson.Date Issued 10-06-07. Item: DOI 10.14288/1.0176990
5 “The Great Wall of Margaret” a post on this block at the link provided in paragraph 3, above. See Notes and Sources at that post for original references.
6 The Hemmingsen Family Collection including “John O Hemmingsen/Mary Margaret Hemmingsen (Dickson)” authored in 1999 by John Oliver Hemmingsen. All materials posthumously published here are copyright © Marilee Wein 2018-2019. All rights reserved.
7 Royal BC Museum: BC Div. Vital Statistics Marriage Registrations: Mark Coe to Margaret Miller: Reg. No. 1913-09-031896 GSU Mfilm 1983428; Frederick George Freeman to Margaret Naysmith Stewart: Reg. 1918-09-191203 GSU MFilm 1984110; Mathias Hemmingson to Margaret Alexander Reg. 1910-09-102563 GSU Mfilm Number:1983709. Vital Statistics Registration of Live Birth No 93-09-909371 for Margaret Naysmith Stewart b.13 Dec 1893. https://royalbcmuseum.bc.ca/
8 Canada Census 1891-1921 British Columbia: Library and Archives, Canada: https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca. a) 1901 for Miller family; District 3 Vancouver, for Nanaimo South, Village of South Wellington. b) 1911 for Miller, Stewart, Mitchell and Hemmingson families: 8 Comox-Atlin, 2 Comox, City of Cumberland. c) 1921 for Miller family: District 15, Sub 6, Cumberland City. d) 1891 for Miller family: Goldstream and Sooke.
9 Matthew F Piercy Cited at http://www.stgeorgesunited.com/history
10 Cited Birth, Marriage and Death data were found in Old Parish Records and/or Statutory Registers at ScotlandsPeople https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk and are © Crown Copyright National Records of Scotland. This includes but is not limited to:
1883 Miller, John (Statutory registers Marriages 652/1 50), 1888 Miller, Margaret Gilchrest (Statutory Births 652/1 346)