Matt Hemmingsen (1876-1967) Memoirs: Oil Painting on Maple Burl; Logging 1912, Cowichan Lake

Look closely at the tall spar, center left, to see its fine network of wires. We shall enlarge a portion of the picture to explain the logging operation that is underway – Cowichan Lake. Oil on Maple Burl ca 1912, artist unknown.

Photo © Sean Hemmingsen 2020

Matt Hemmingsen’s memoirs left off in 1910, with him at the alter in Courtenay, B.C. He would become our grandfather. Here are later remarks of our dear woods pioneer concerning 1911 and 1912 that took his new family to Chemainus and Lake Cowichan.

The summer of 1911 saw the finish of logging in this area [Comox Valley on Vancouver Island] and all machinery moved to headquarters [Chemainus], and I was promoted to Superintendent of all logging operations as designated originally by the President [John Humbird of the Humbird-Weyerhaeuser V. L. & M Company], who was now dead, so his plans did not materialize in his life time.

1912 saw the commencement of logging at Cowichan Lake on one of the largest tracts of timber owned by the Company, and situated 30 miles from the Mills.

Memoirs of Matt Hemmingsen ca 1956. See note 1.

Matt’s Memoirs ca 1956 and John’s Family History 1999: Matt’s paper became strictly business staring 1911. Our father’s work will soften Matt’s, providing family glimpses, as well, additional scope to Matt’s slim sketch of his journey.2


In 1911, V. L. & M sold its vast (about 2 billion bd ft) timber holdings in the Comox/ Courtenay area to a competitor (Canadian Western Timber Co.) for three million dollars.

With this sale it became necessary to develop other areas of V. L & M’s timber resource to assure a continuing supply of logs to the Chemainus sawmill…. [ASIDE: John’s description of the company holdings and the Crown Resource can be had under our Tsolum River Logjam post.]

By 1912, the E & N Railroad was being extended to Cowichan Lake and this provided the opportunity for V. L. & M to develop its vast crown grant timber resource in the Cowichan Lake area. This production would be railed to the Chemainus sawmill via the E & N Railroad.

In addition to the above responsibilities, Matt took on logging contracts with V. L. & M to log their crown grant timber holdings which bordered on the shoreline and therefore could be logged directly into the lake for towing down lake to a point of loading onto E & N railcars for transport to Chemainus sawmill.

In one of those earliest operations, Matt (in the absence of any better system) developed his own. Basically, the system comprised a very large “trough” made with logs stretching from shoreline up through the forest. These “log troughs” were straight and extended from the lake to near the back boundary of the timber block. This distance was sometimes great.

John Hemmingsen Family History 1999. See note 2.
Oil on Maple Burl and photo owned by S. Hemmingsen

… an oil painting on a large maple burl showing this system with Cowichan Lake in the lower background. In this picture steam arising from a donkey located at the lower end of the “log trough” can be seen. This lower steam donkey pulls a string of logs down the trough into the lake. The other steam donkey shown some distance above the lake feeds logs into the trough ready for when the cable from the lower donkey returns for another string of logs to cover greater distances. Several additional donkeys can be added further up the trough. The painting illustrates this system – at least in principle.

John Hemmingsen Family History 1999. See note 2.

This is a genealogy; here are family updates contemporary with the logging history that led to the pictured operation. Luck was with us on this regard. Because Granny and Granddad were still living in the Comox Valley when Census 1911 was taken, we were able to see relationship develop among the Alexander and Mitchell family and that of Hemmingsen. They have been expressed over the posts, Great Wall of Margaret, Sunny Days Ahead and the adventures of Skog-Vefsn.

Of blessings, 1911 brought Margaret Henrietta Hemmingsen on March 1 in Cumberland; Margaret for our Alexander side, Henrietta for Matt’s sister. Agnes Marie joined October 7, 1912 in Chemainus; Agnes for Granny’s sister, Marie for Granddad’s. Margaret Henrietta was known as Marg and Agnes Marie, as Marie.

The sad ledger saw Matt’s step-brother, Torger, drowned while working the boom on Wisconsin’s White River, in 1911.3 This painfully echoed the loss of full-brother, Harry who had died a gruesome logger’s death in 1901.4 Torger’s passing had special hurt for full-siblings Etta, Matt and Ed. He was also second-cousin to the three and their last immigrant link to the mother they had lost, so young – Berit Hass Mathisdatter.


The lovely maple burl painting started its journey in the floating home of our grandparents on Lake Cowichan, then graced the walls of our parents, and currently resides in Saskatchewan.


Left: Hemmingsen-Cameron Co. Ltd. operation at Port Renfrew, B. C. in 1940 – and in 1990 when our family revisited the area – 50 years after they replanted it for forest regeneration. For additional posts on HEMMINGSEN LOGGING HISTORY in northwestern Wisconsin, on Vancouver Island and in Newfoundland CLICK HERE

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 © 2018-2020. All rights reserved.

2 The Hemmingsen Family Collection including “John O Hemmingsen/Mary Margaret Hemmingsen (Dickson)” authored 1999 by John Oliver Hemmingsen. All materials posthumously published here are copyright © Marilee Wein 2018-2020. All rights reserved.  The collection also holds related material such as pictures, etc.

3 The Washburn Times, Washburn WI July 13, 1911 accessed at and previous post

4 Documented in previous post

6 thoughts on “Matt Hemmingsen (1876-1967) Memoirs: Oil Painting on Maple Burl; Logging 1912, Cowichan Lake

  1. It fascinating to learn about the log troughs. They figured out some really ingenious ways to move logs back in the days before modern technology.


  2. My parents and grandparents emigrated to the US as war refugees, following WWII. From an old postcard, they had a painting made of the village in Hungary where my mother grew up. It hung proudly in my grandparents’ dining room for many years, and now hangs in mine. ❤


    1. Anna, what a treasure to hold! I am imagining the stories they must have shared with you over the years, made alive through this picture. The dining room is a perfect place for adult reminiscences to take hold in the hearts of children. Those stories are yours now, to interpret the painting anew.


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