Matt Hemmingsen (1876-1967) Memoirs: His Innovations in West Coast Logging 1907-1911

Photo © Sean Hemmingsen 2020

Our Tsolum River post featured Matt Hemmingsen using hands-on expertize that he had gained during river drives in Wisconsin, to correct an epic logjam in British Columbia. That was 1907. Our last post enlarged a segment of photo left, to describe a “log trough” system he developed around 1910. It greatly facilitated removal of logs felled in the forest, to the river for further transport to the sawmill. At the same time, Matt was introducing high-lead logging to the west coast.

Matt continued to advance logging throughout his career. However, obituary accounts of our “Woods Pioneer” led with the high-lead logging. We were surprised then, that his Memoirs memorialized this achievement, as follows:


Memoirs of Matt Hemmingsen Victoria B.C. ca 1956

The roll-out of high-lead to the west coast was highly successful and established Matt’s name there. To be sure, he did not invent the system, rather introduced the concept, adapting it to his new environment. Still, it seems a huge omission from his memoirs. Perhaps he thought he had said enough on the process two decades prior! However, when reading John below, the reader is reminded of our “Death by Logging” post and Matt’s brother, Harry, as related to the decking procedure. The lapse then, may be another instance where Matt’s tales were moderated by traumatic memory.

No mention! Luckily we have an account of things from Matt’s son, John.

as ordered by Humbird, Matt travelled all the V. L. & M. logging operations to become familiar with the logging methods in use. [1907].

This ground lead system of logging was highly inefficient – a log skidded along the ground would “hang-up” on stumps, other trees and many other obstructions – as a result, productivity was very low.

In Wisconsin the logs coming in from the forest were decked (piled) on river’s edge by placing a pulley or a block up a tree. A line was threaded through this block. One end of that line was tied to a team of horses, the other end being attached to one or more logs. On a signal the team would go ahead and in effect would lift the logs into place on the deck.

To correct the inefficient ground lead system of the West Coast, Matt, in 1910, applied the principle used in Wisconsin as per the above and the high lead system of logging was born.

This new system was so successful that Matt was in demand – and with Humbird’s permission he travelled to the state of Washington where he showed several companies how to rig and operate this new high lead logging system.

By this time, Matt had become General Supervisor of all V. L. & M. logging operations on Vancouver Island.

John Oliver Hemmingsen Family History 1999.


Our paternal grandparents: Matt and Margaret Hemmingsen were still in the Comox Valley B.C. in June of 1911, as were Ed and Anna Hemmingsen. Sister Etta Church (Hemmingsen) and her husband, William, stayed farming in Whatcom County, WA. These Hemmingsen full-siblings and their now long deceased parents, had immigrated from Norway in the 1880s. Their half-siblings, with step-mother and widow, Aletta Hemmingson, remained in the Mason, Bayfield County, WI area. They had just moved from the homestead that our patriarch, Ole, had built. Matt and Margaret would now repair down Vancouver Island, to locate in the Chemainus and Lake Cowichan area.

Margaret Naysmith Alexander married Matt Hemmingsen in 1910. Her parents had immigrated from Scotland to British Columbia in the late 1890s and her father, John, was long passed. Her Aunt Isabella Alexander, married to Alexander Howat, was now successful in King County, WA. Margaret’s sister, Agnes Taylor Alexander, homed with the Howat family, would soon marry Theodore Drummond, and remain in the States. Margaret’s mother, Margaret Donaldson Mitchell (Alexander), born Baxter, was widowed again. The Mitchell family would remain in the Comox Valley for the time being, including Margaret’s full brother, Samuel Alexander. So too, the Daniel Stewart family; that of Margaret’s Aunt Marion Gillies Baxter.

We await our maternal grandparents.

Notes, Sources and Copyrights.

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. The work is protected here and published at copyright © 2018-2019. 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 2018-2019. All rights reserved.  The collection also holds related material such as the newspaper articles, pictures, etc.

3. Our paternal grandparents section has been previously documented through posts on this blog under “Before Memories.” Click PDF, right, to view.

4 thoughts on “Matt Hemmingsen (1876-1967) Memoirs: His Innovations in West Coast Logging 1907-1911

  1. Hi.
    Good Tho’ Distant
    Social Greetings Marilee.
    Hope Alls So Well There. Here
    👍 🤔

    Enjoyed This Branching Outs. Tree
    Trough A Great Thought In Deed. Indeed
    Timely Innovations Intro’d. Ending

    So Now. Stay Well, Safe.
    Take Care
    Till Next… Shiro 😎

    Liked by 1 person

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