"The Automobile City"

by George Siamandas

The village of Steibach was founded in 1874 by 18 Mennonites families that set up a traditional Mennonite village along a creek. The founders' names included Wiebe, Penner, Reimer, Towes, Friesen, Plett and they are the stock of many Mennonites in Manitoba today. It is an unlikely location as it was away from Winnipeg and on the south eastern edge of the old Mennonites villages. But its success was due to ambitious hard working people. But initially, business was frowned on as an activity.


JR Friesen brought a 1911 Model N the forerunner of the Model T to Steinbach. He was promptly excommunicated by the church but Friesen was so excited about the possibilities of the car that he did not take the excommunication too seriously. In fact he had the last laugh when several years later the same ministers that had thrown him out came to buy cars themselves. On June 6 1914 he became the first Ford car dealer in western Canada. The cars were brought by rail knocked down in boxes, assembled and delivered on sleighs to their owners. In 1928 and 1929 they were selling 70 cars per year at about $650 each.

To sell cars in the 1930s they offered your money back in three days if not satisfied. They also held Canada's earliest car auction selling 48 at the Penner dealership which was western Canada's most modern in the early 1950s. John D Penner in 1950 was the first to take out full page ads in the Winnipeg papers to promote cars.

They tried every inducement including inviting customers and their families over for dinner. One time Mr Penner visited a family on their farm, and while he showed the husband and wife the car, Mrs Penner milked all the cows. The wife was so moved she agreed to the sale on the spot. Mr Penner said he had not yet milked a cow himself but he had done just about everything else in order to sell a car.


Steinbach's car salesmen were the top of the country in the 1950s selling more than 250 cars annually. In 1960 they held a special promotion where anyone who came to Steinbach to buy a car had his hotel restaurant or other transportation paid for him. People came not only from Manitoba but also from Saskatchewan and Alberta.


Many businesses depended on a local invention. Inventors helped make their work easier, whether grain feeders for threshing machines, bee keepers equipment, bakery ovens and dough making machines, or mechanized dredges used to build drainage ditches.

Abraham S Friesen who was the first village mayor, first postmaster and a mechanical pioneer introduced mechanization to agriculture. He built the first windmill in 1877 and the first sawmill in 1876. It was his sons that later started the first Ford dealership in western Canada. Others like Peter K Barkman set up the first steam powered mill flour mill in 1880.


To encourage industry they introduced a ten year tax holiday and so Barkman's Flour Mill was constructed in 1922. Through the 1950s and 1960s Steinbach had the highest growth rate of all Manitoba communities.


Not happy with the condition of roads in the 1930s, the local transportation committee took matters into their own hands developing and upgrading first the road to Giroux where the nearest railway was located and then east to the Morden Sprague highway. They filled in swamps with corduroy getting help from adjoining farmers. Soon the predecessor to No 12 was formed. They also formed pure bred swine and poultry clubs a legacy for egg and pork production that is making this rural area the fastest growing producer in Manitoba. All the work was don in the depths of the depression with barely any governmental money. They held courses on everything under the sun: bee keeping, hog raising etc.



According to Statistics Canada, Steinbach and the area around it is known to be the most giving census tract in all of Canada for charitable donations.


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