Matt and Margaret Hemmingsen had five children throughout the 1910s.1 They named them for heritage and after those with whom they had shared significant hardship. These names were worn in honor through more idyllic family times, by siblings who formed deep abiding friendships. With glorious childhoods stretching through the 1920s, they matured into the depression and wartime. This is a quick tour of their youth on Vancouver Island.
Cumberland 1911: Margaret Henrietta. Margaret forenamed first daughters, unbroken for generations, in her mother’s line. Henrietta was her father’s elder sister who, when twelve and he, eleven, braved a winter emigration from Norway, alone together, trying to beat their mother’s imminent death in Wisconsin. Soon after arrival, “Etta” found herself the carer of five younger siblings.
Margaret Henrietta took leadership qualities from Aunt Etta, pushing her four siblings to receive higher education. She studied commerce and accounting on her own to become a most competent bookkeeper and office manager in her father’s businesses. After all, she had been his tutor. He had come with a fourth grade education to graduate at the top of his class of one, home schooled by Marg as she advanced through her grades. She was an excellent student and of educated opinion, always suspected of being a savvy world traveler, although she rarely left her greater home base area. Her magazine racks overflowed with foreign subscriptions. She will be heard from again, as her father’s business memoirs roll forward.
The family moved to Chemainus in 1912; headquarters of Matt’s new contract with V.L.&M Co.2 A couple of years later they moved to Cowichan Lake where logging operations were carried out. He set up his own business soon thereafter.
Floating Logging Camp: The work to the right hangs in the home of Matt’s grandson. Camp ownership is not revealed, but a Hemmingsen Logging Camp floated on Cowichan Lake. The original was painted in the area around 1920. It is unclear if this hanging is the original.
These facilities could be moved to new works sites as they were identified.
Float House: Matt had a large home built on a cedar log raft on the lake, but not before two children had been born to the Chemainus home, as discussed below.
The house was anchored on the shoreline and situated near where the lake empties into the Cowichan River, not far from Duncan. The photo was taken in 1914 and included the Chemainus-born children.
Chemainus 1912: Agnes Marie. Agnes Taylor Alexander was her mother’s full and younger sister. Just the year prior to Agnes Marie’s birth, dire family circumstances lead mid-teen Agnes Taylor to be sent to extended family in Seattle, to begin an American life. Marie Hemmingson was her father’s adored younger sister of whom he was thrice robbed; first by his year in Norway awaiting emigration with Henrietta, then as she was sent off to care for an elderly lady, and finally, fatally, in her late teens, by TB.
Agnes Marie was known fondly, as Marie. Her Aunt Marie was recorded as a very beautiful young girl who became that caretaker by special request, on account of her tenderness.3 Marie was stunning, with the kind soul of a nurse and the steady nerves of a high diver. The sisters were adept at piano, in which Marie excelled. With her independent pursuits, Marie was the only sibling not to work in their father’s business during youth. (The backdrop mountain for young Marie is similar to that in the Floating Camp painting.)
PIANOFORTE RECITAL: The pupils of Reginald Cox, L. Mus. McGill were heard in a successful recital Friday night in the Amphion Hall … Marie Hemmingsen gave a brilliant rendering of Durand’s Valse in E flat showing considerable technical attainment.The Daily Colonist (1928-06-04)
Chemainus 1913: John Oliver. His mother’s young father, John Taylor Alexander, was taken by a coal mine accident in 1896. Of course, her first son would be John. The first direct ancestral John of record was John Taylor, born 1796 in Stirlingshire. The name carried through the Alexander line after it merged with Taylor.
The derivation of Oliver is less certain. His father’s second half-brother was Arthur Oliver Hemmingson. The why of Oliver for Arthur is not known. More likely, John’s Oliver was a nod to William Edgar Oliver, a lawyer and family friend from Victoria, with property on the Cowichan River – which his father later bought.
John said it was nine acres of fruit orchard, cow and horse barns, grass tennis courts and a log house with 1000 feet of riverfront. He said it was used mainly for summer seasons and that he spent grade school, all but one year, in the Victoria system. The quote below shows the siblings standings in 1924, suggesting that the outlier educational year was spent at Lake Cowichan. Photo credit for the old Oliver House: Rolli Gunderson, author, Lake Cowichan.
1924-Special to The Times: Cowichan Lake School Closing. PRIZES: Honour Roll Proficiency: Margaret Hemmingsen. Special prize for highest standing – Marie Hemmingsen. History (Junior): Billie Hemmingsen. PROMOTIONS: Grade 7 to 8; Marie Hemmingsen. Grade 5 to 6: John Hemmingsen. Grade 4 to 5: Billie Hemmingsen.Victoria Daily Times (1924-07-03) Pg. 17. Publisher University of Victoria
1928: Mrs. Matt Hemmingsen and the Misses Marie and Margaret Hemmingsen and John, Billy and Bobby have returned to Victoria after having spent the holiday months in their summer home on the river.The Daily Colonist, Lake Cowichan News. (1928-08-30)
Duncan 1915: William Buchanan. His mother’s second forename “Naysmith” hailed from direct ancestral sire, William Naismith, b. abt. 1760 in Scotland. Her own mother’s maiden name was Baxter, a line which merged with Naismith, wherein William was also a favored name. More importantly, its latest iteration had just arrived in 1907; half-brother, William Mitchell. William’s father, Dugald Buchanan Mitchell had become Margaret’s step-father when she was seven. Dugald Buchanan had passed in 1911.
William Buchanan was a name of great honor in 1915. It went to the most decent of men. He was the fun uncle who would join the gaggle of the next generation’s cousins while they recreated the wild west in his backyard, while slyly reminding them of Victoria’s black widow spider, and not to trash his brussel sprouts.
All Williams behind the name were miners; Bill commanded their strength, directing it toward commerce, business administration and forestry. Bill and John, gained all manner of practical experience as teens when off school, such as clearing brush in the jungle-like west coast of Vancouver Island. They made way for a telephone line to their father’s remote business.
Victoria 1920: Robert Mathias. Robert was a direct ancestor in both Taylor and Baxter lines. The earliest of record was Robert Taylor, born around 1760 in Scotland. Robert Baxter was born in Scotland in 1811.
Mathias probably reflected his father’s deepest zone. While it was Matt’s name, whose father was Ole Mathias, he was far more likely honoring his beloved mother, lost to him at eleven. Her father was Mathias Bendigtsen b. 1820. It was Mathias Bendigtsen’s home, from which Etta and Matt had exited Norway. Of his mother, Matt wrote “these teachings have been with me – ever my guidance – having formed the basis of my ethics – indeed a saving grace in all my wanderings throughout the vicissitudes of life”. Hers were the qualities of Robert Mathias Hemmingsen.
All brothers worked in their father’s woods when off school to learn all sorts of valuable hands-on life skills. All spent some time as adults in the family business. Yet, Bob’s path was a little different for the age difference and that he would mature into wartime. He did so, putting himself forward as a boy-soldier. See “Boy Soldiers of Ole Hemmingson” at https://wp.me/p9ORWJ-YU
The last child was born five months into the 1920s. The family had taken up residence in Victoria a couple of years in front of the decade, for superior education and health care service. Yet, the Cowichan business was thriving such that Margaret was provided household help to run two homes.
That in Victoria was at 2706 Cedar Hill Road. Miss Denham lived on the opposite side of the street. She became the children’s nanny and lifelong family companion – celebrated at https://wp.me/p9ORWJ-1wC
Additionally, Census 1921 of 2706 showed nurse Alice Mary McCormish (probably a baby nurse) and housekeeper, Kathleen Korten. It did not reveal whomever was selected to fulfill the advertisement quoted below. John’s Family History tells that a Chinese gentleman, a cook, was a longtime resident of the lower (dark) section of the house, who had a free standing structure at Cowichan. Perhaps his name will be found in the 1931 Census, to be available, June next.
Wanted – Immediately, cook-general, must be capable and trustworthy. $50 monthly. Apply Mrs. Hemmingsen, 2706 Cedar Hill Road. City.Victoria Daily Times (1921-01-12) Pg 15. University of Victoria Library Collection.
Some of Margaret’s half-siblings were age-peer buddies while uncles and aunts to her children. That was so for William Mitchell. Bill’s namesake was just fifteen when lost in the 1923 explosion of Comox #4 mine. His awful death, this national news, had a sobering impact on the otherwise happy lives of the Hemmingsen siblings. Now they indelibly comprehended tales of their parents’ hardships.
Meanwhile the greater family had been branching out everywhere too. Matt’s brother, Ed, was sometimes a farmer in Washington State, sometimes Matt’s logging partner in B.C. and longtime hotelier of the Riverside Inn at Lake Cowichan. Etta was farming just across the border. The family huddled around their crank up phone to chat with her.
Agnes Taylor Alexander became Drummond, and in fact, two Drummond children from Seattle stand on the stairs in that photo of 2706. The Howats too, in Seattle; Margaret would always stay close to the family of her father’s sister, Sybil. Sam Alexander, Margaret’s brother, exchanged the coal mine of Comox for Loci Engineer of the #3 Climax Engine – subject of Mural #28 of the world-famed historic murals painted in Chemainus, by Dan Sawatzky. Some of his Mitchell half-brothers followed to log.
The broader Hemmingsen and Alexander-Mitchell families became interconnected in friendship. “Cousins” were everywhere, and travel ever more abundant as roads and routes developed. It was a time of great expansion and excitement on Vancouver Island.
1926: Mr. and Mrs. S. Alexander and family of Lake Cowichan, and Mrs. M. Hemmingsen and children Marie and Bobby motored to Cumberland Wednesday last and were the guests of Mrs. Margaret Mitchell, mother of Mr. Alexander and Mrs. Hemmingsen. The party left this morning and will motor straight through to Victoria.Cumberland Islander 1926-11-19 (BC Historical Newspapers provided by UBC Library Vancouver)
ca 1931: Marie Hemmingsen, 19, nurse-in-training, (separate entry: Margaret Hemmingsen, 21, stenographer) of Victoria, B.C. to visit Mrs. T. J. Drummond of Seattle WA. for 3 days.U.S. Border Crossings from Canada to U.S. 1895-1960 for Marie Hemmingsen via Ancestry.com
The rarely idle Matt Hemmingsen had begun to branch out his logging business around 1923, first in the Malahat District, near Shawnigan Lake. In fact, his varied interests included prospecting throughout the Province. Financial reward did not follow these mining speculations, but all added to the children’s general education and zest for life.
He had claims near the Yukon border as early as 1908, just two years after he entered Canada. He co-owned the Black Prince Group within the decade; mineral claims on the north-easterly side of Cowichan Lake.7 (See special note on John Dickson Hemmingsen under source 7) However, the Family History concentrated on the Gold Finch venture of the mid-1920s conducted on the mountain above Arrow Lake in the interior of B.C. That is because John and Bill worked a summer there, transporting camp supplies by horse, up several thousand feet to the mining camp. They were taught, as were Marg, Marie and Bob how to use tools, both physical and mental, to become expert and productive in their endeavors.
The Depression hit logging hard in the early 1930s. The family was able to maintain an excellent standard of living, but Matt closed his Cowichan Lake operation in 1930. He was back at it by mid-1930 though, on the remote west coast of the Island, around Port Renfrew. These dealings will be presented in much greater detail, as his Memoirs continue to roll out. They are mentioned here, for their effect on his children. John and Bill especially, were of the age to trudge into this temperate rain forest of the San Juan Valley with axes and saws and take joy in useful work.
The siblings became more reliant on Victoria friends and activities as they matured so that the Cowichan property was sold in the early 30s. Matt also sold his Malahat holdings and those in the B.C. interior, but went forward in Port Renfrew with Margaret becoming ever more important in administration.
All childhoods gave way to maturity in 1935. Bob was not only the youngest child, but also the one to strike his path at the youngest age; 15. He earned his Certificate of cation, First Class, Visual Telegraphy, in 1935, before graduating high school. This youthful passion became his ultimate direction.
Margaret, growing her bona fides in Matt’s businesses, saw Marie graduate as a Registered Nurse from the Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria. That was September of 1933. Hers was a depression class of 19. The boys had secure employment with their father. As Marg urged, all attended post-secondary school, starting locally at Victoria College in Craigdarroch Castle. John and Bill continued at the University of British Columbia. John graduated as the only Forestry Engineer in the Class of 1937. He then resumed work with his father. About that time, Bill took a hiatus from his UBC studies to join them. He later graduated in Commerce and Business Administration.
The siblings married local folks (see note A) but the country was trending for career paths that caused families to disperse. That was especially true for Bob with his military career. The couples remained steadfast to each other, and all attained old age. The last child of the cousin-set born to them arrived mid-1950s; they all enjoyed the great blessing of grandparents, Matt and Margaret, into their late teens.
Matt’s Old Age Reflection
At the age of twelve and one half, I went to work at McKee Logging Camp … as a cookhouse flunkey. It was a sled-haul camp and breakfast was called at 2:15 a.m. … Even now, at the ripe age about 80, when hearing an alarm clock go off it brings to my mind my having to go to work just after midnight … thirty-five dollars cash was a lot of money those days to a boy, even though it took four months to make it! When today my sons and grandsons talk of matriculation, college degrees etc., I remember vividly my brother Harry and I … quitting school … after we had gone through the Fourth Reader twice – that being the limit of the education to be had in our first school house. Taking all this into consideration, I now and then permit myself the luxury of feeling that I perhaps have not done too badly in life.The Memoirs of Matt Hemmingsen ca 1954, Victoria BC
Finally: The couples homed to Victoria to spend their golden years together. It was a beautiful thing. Marg, the first sibling born, was first to leave. That was 1984. Bill, the sibling with the fewest years, was robbed by ALS at 70; he was a young man in this family. John was the last sibling to leave. He was in his 95th year in 2008. This long Hemmingsen family journey had been wonderfully amplified by those of the spouses. It was Bill’s wife, Barbara, who, at 96 in 2011, took it all into history. It was 100 years since Marg was born.
Notes and Sources
Note A: Marriages in Victoria B.C.; John to Mary Margaret Dickson (Mae, Mo), April 1939. Marie to Gordon St Leger Tomlin (Gus), May 1939. Bill to Barbara Maude Paitson, November 1941, Margaret to Hugh Herbert Beck, October 1943, Bob to Margery Winnifred Haslett, nee Lindgren (Ticky), November 1949.
1-6: Background for this post comes from two unpublished volumes, with content protected here by copyright and several photos and materials from family collections. That said, the unpublished material is presented after verification at archival sources and that for Margaret Naysmith Alexander’s heritage is found in the post “the Great Wall of Margaret” and for Matt Hemmingsen under posts on his Memoirs “Matt Hemmingsen 1876-1967”.
- 1 Family History of John O Hemmingsen and Mary Margaret Dickson, by JOH in 1999.
- 2 Memoirs of Matt Hemmingsen dictated to his daughter, Margaret, circa 1954.
- 3 Audio tape of Gina Plocker (Rued) circa 1959.
- 4 Orcutt Family
- 5 Matt Hemmingsen Family
- 6 Kofal-Dybedal Family
7. British Columbia: Legislative Assembly. (1920) Annual Report of the Minister of Mines for the Year Ending 31st December 1919 Being an Account of Mining Operations for Gold, Coal, Etc., in the Province of British Columbia doi; http://dx.doi.org/10.14288/1.0224426 1920: Alumina/Analysis of Cowichan Manganese Ore found at page 10 Geo.5 (Western District No. 6) N 237 (PDF Curser Pgs. 280-283)
Special Note on Source 7: John Dickson Hemmingsen, son of John Oliver, recalled a conversation during a cribbage game with Granddad Matt from his early very teens, regarding alumina. It seems the mineral was of no significance at the time that Matt held it in his holdings, but had gained over time. That tidbit led to this recent search that discovered Matt’s holdings at Cowichan Lake. See also https://wp.me/p9ORWJ-28j ; a post on Matt’s prospecting – which may update in time, due to this lead.
8. Further sources at the links provided.
Copyright © Marilee Wein and DoubleGenealogyTheAdoptionWitness 2018-2023, author and owner.
4 thoughts on “Matt Hemmingsen 1876-1967: The 100 Years Since His Margaret Was Born.”
I LOVE your blog!!!!!
Thanks so much Karlyn you are appreciated!
I love the shot of Marg and Marie – walking with style and humor.
Me too! They were fun ladies!
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