Memorable Manitobans: Peter William “P. W.” Enns (1912-2004)
Inventor, entrepreneur, philanthropist.
Born in the Greenfarm district on 1 June 1912, the eighth of eleven children of William F. Enns and Anna Wiens, he grew up on the family farm and, after seven years of schooling at Greenfarm School, he took up regular farm work. He apprenticed as a shoemaker, received a gas fitter’s license, and was a self-taught plumber, electrician, builder, welder, musician, carpenter, woodworker, and inventor. He was an avid fan of Popular Science and Popular Mechanics magazines and found ways to read them while going about his chores. He would read while working the fields, aligning the front wheel of his tractor with the furrow and allowing it to drive on its own. Occasionally he would be halfway across the field before noticing that he was off course.
On 20 December 1931, he married Helena Buhler (1909-1993) and they had five children. The family moved to Niverville in 1934, where he opened a shoe repair shop, and four years later became partners with his brother, John Enns, in a farm implement and petroleum company, and later an auto dealership.
The family moved back to Greenfarm in 1944 to take over the family homestead, but he continued to be distracted from farming. He designed and manufactured a powered snow caboose used by Winkler doctor Cornelius W. Wiebe on his rural house calls. During the electrification of rural Manitoba in the 1940s, Enns and his brothers wired farms and homes in the Greenfarm area. He designed, engineered, and built a functioning elevator for the Bethel Hospital in Winkler. He spent hours tinkering in his well-equipped welding shop on the farm, building a self-propelled swather for his own farm and manufacturing hydraulic truck lifts for other farmers, using parts removed from decommissioned Second World War aircraft.
In 1956, he and his wife left the farm because of her health and moved to Winkler where he established Enns Plumbing and Heating. He continued his backyard tinkering and, inspired by travel trailers he saw on a trip to Indiana, built a prototype in a friend’s garage. In 1966, he established a recreational-vehicle manufacturing company with his two sons-in-law, Peter Elias and Philipp Ens, and he was its first president, from 1965 to 1969. This business, called Triple E Recreational Vehicles, was originally intended to provide winter work for the employees of his plumbing shop but the company grew rapidly. In 1968, the plumbing business was sold. His sons-in-law eventually took over active management of the company but he continued to provide guidance and inspiration.
As an active member of the Winkler Bergthaler Mennonite Church, he viewed his business as an extension of his church life, growing the company to provide employment for his fellow citizens and directing profits into charitable and church projects. He established the P. W. Enns Family Foundation to raise funds to build the Mennonite Heritage Centre at 600 Shaftesbury Boulevard in Winnipeg, on the campus of what is now Canadian Mennonite University. His handcrafted wooded doors grace the entrance to the building.
He served as a trustee for the Greenfarm School District, a volunteer at the Mennonite Central Committee headquarters, and a member of the Bergthaler church council and two building committees. He served on the boards of Salem Personal Care Home and the Eden Mental Health Centre, both in Winkler, was a member of Mennonite Economic Development Associates, and a lifetime member of the Mennonite Heritage Village Museum, and the Stanley Flying Club. In 2004, he was named Winkler’s Citizen of the Year in recognition of his accomplishments and contributions.
Birth registration, Manitoba Vital Statistics.
This page was prepared by Lois Braun and Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 18 June 2020