Matt Hemmingsen (1876-1967) Memoirs: Convergence 1912; James Dickson (1882-1969)

Our maternal grandfather, James Dickson arrived at Canada’s east coast on 6 Feb 1912 bound for the coal mines of Nanaimo B.C. He was a humble hewer of coal who would become the Chief Inspector of Mines for British Columbia.

– Nanaimo Harbour and Bastion, Nanaimo, B.C.

As he stepped upon his destination, the Udston explosion from the backyard of his youth, came echoing to the front yard of his future. That Hamilton disaster in Scotland was preceded by just three weeks in Nanaimo, where a colliery blast on 4 May 1887 left 170 dead. These two resonant happenings and family losses in mining would inform his lifelong passion in safety and rescue.

Double Genealogy: The Adoption Witness © 2018 Marilee Wein

We opined in the book that our James Dickson was aboard the Steamer Tees in August of 1912, plying the Strait of Juan de Fuca.1 That would be to make his mark on the remote, rugged west coast of Vancouver Island, by reporting on Clayoquot Coal or Quatsino Ore.

.. if so, he would know that within three months, Steamer Tees would be replaced by the Princess Maquinna. As he passed the way stop Port Renfrew on Pacific water, perhaps his mind’s eye blinked back thirty years to the banks of the River Clyde, then blinked forward thirty, to see Maquinna drop provision here, to his own daughter, and know that life in Canada would be most abundant. And that, without question is the truth!

Double Genealogy: The Adoption Witness © 2018 Marilee Wein

JAMES DICKSON (1882-1969): His Ancestry and His Scotland Years; 1882-1911

James Dickson did not self-reference. It was evident when he passed that his loving family knew precious little of his life in Scotland. While addressing the deficit, a sole census of long-ago, suggested he had been adopted. Associated records made that notion credible. The book “Double Genealogy: The Adoption Witness” was written on the quest for proof. Its main mission, though, continued to be the heritage of his adoptive family; that is, of our truth, as he lived it – in depth from the late 1700s until 1911. From the data maze that ensued, it presented an unmarried biological origin-set, who were selected entirely on best circumstantial evidence, each of whom seemed unrelated to his adoptive parents. Still, with no DNA, that biological supposition remains; not proven. As he would say, he was James Dickson, son of James Dickson and Margaret Gemmell.


Nanaimo’s newspaper, The Daily Herald captured James as Dixon, far more often than as Dickson. In fact, his 1921 Census taken in Victoria, also recorded him as Dixon. This oddity may have hampered Dad, in his work on our Family History


1913: James Dickson was passionately invested in issues of mine safety and rescue. A column in Nanaimo’s The Daily Herald, entitled “Ambulance Work at the Jingle Pot” noted J. Dickson as treasure to the committee offering ambulance classes, given Sunday, 7 SEP 1913.2 “St John’s Ambulance Text Book” was unanimously accepted as the standard publication for the students. He remained dedicated to these classes throughout his career.

We are fairly certain that J. Dickson, above, was our James, because the next account shows him (as Dixon) to have worked the Jingle Pot mine, then, in an overman position. That was from The Daily Herald 29 June 1919. 3 Notably, it indicates he had important official positions in Scotland, whereas his exit census from Scotland showed him, yet a hewer in the mine. This Herald historical perspective allows us to show his work progression in B.C., until 1919:

  • 1912-1914 Overman, E. Wellington (Jingle Pot) Colliery, Vancouver-Nanaimo Coal Co.
  • 1915-1916 Overman, Reserve Mine, Canadian Western Fuel Co.
  • 1917-1919 Manager, Reserve Mine, Canadian Western Fuel Co.


Messrs. James Dixon of Nanaimo and Henry Miard of Coal Creek have been appointed members of the Miner’s Examination Board, appointments to take effect from July 1st.

Both the appointees are well known in mining circles in the province. Mr. Dixon is mine manager at the Reserve Mine operated by the Canadian Western Fuel Company, Nanaimo, which position he has held for over two years, prior to which he was overman for the same Colliery for two years. Before joining this Company’s staff he was with the Vancouver Nanaimo Coal Company, employed as overman at the East Wellington (Jinglepot) Colliery. For several years Mr. Dixon held important official positions in Great Britain. He has been appraiser for the Board of Examiners of BC examining the papers of candidates for the Certificates of Competency and both by training and experience is highly qualified for the duties of his new office. He was a teacher in connection with the Technical Mining Classes conducted at Nanaimo, is the holder of a First Class Certificate of Competency for British Columbia and Great Britain.

See Notes and Sources, Item 3


We brought the genealogical storyline of our paternal grandparents, current to 1911 in our last post entitled “His Innovations in West Coast Logging 1907-1911” They were Mathias Berg Hemmingsen and Margaret Naysmith Alexander.

This post presented our maternal grandfather, James Dickson, and provided a link to his ancestry, to 1911 in Scotland, as well as his professional development, 1912 to 1919, in Canada.

We previously supported the ancestry of our maternal grandmother, Janet Gray McArthur; that in Scotland from just after Culloden Moor until 1910, when her family emigrated to Canada, and her parent’s Canadian story until 1918, the year of the horrific death of her father, in a mining cage fall. We have some work to do on leveling her sibling data, along with the personal life of James Dickson in the 1912-1919 timeframe.

We will now return to the roll-out of the Memoirs of Matt Hemmingsen, presently at 1912

Our McArthur ancestry can be traced to Robert and his wife, Jane Russell, who were born in Scotland around 1760. Descendant Robert, born in 1862 and wife Mary Hay Gray, emigrated to Canada in 1910. CLICK HERE to read our collection of stories.

Notes and Sources

1 University of Victoria “For the West Coast” The Daily Colonist 21 Aug 1912 p. 15

2. “Ambulance Work at the Jingle Pot.” The Daily Herald, September 9, 1913. Accessed April 16, 2020.

3 “Local Manager Member of New Board” The Daily Herald, June 29,1919. Accessed April 16, 2020 ,

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