Memorable Manitobans: Franz Wiebe “Frank” Sawatzky (1904-1999)
Born at Reichenbach on 8 November 1904, one of eleven children of Agatha Wiebe (1881-1949) and Franz “Frank” Sawatzky (1879-1960), his grandparents had immigrated from South Russia in 1875 and settled on a farm in the Rural Municipality of Hanover.
After working for a time as a trapper and with harvest teams, he worked with his father from whom he acquired carpentry skills. He became a general building contractor and worked for the Flood Board after the flood of 1950. He founded the F. W. Sawatzky Construction Company in 1953, and it evolved over time into the worldwide company FWS Group. He retired from the company in 1960.
Between 1931 and 1932, with funds provided by his father-in-law Jacob Reimer Friesen, and with Friesen’s son, Edwin Friesen and with Frank’s brother-in-law, Bill P. Wiebe, working in Friesen’s automotive garage, they built a Pietenpol aircraft using a rebuilt engine from a Ford Model A. On 2 May 1932, the aircraft was flown by pilot Frank Brown. Sawatzky was the first licensed aircraft pilot in Steinbach (1933) and he and his wife flew aircraft on many adventures.
In 1932, he married Anne Friesen (1909-2005, daughter of Jacob Reimer Friesen) and they had three daughters and a son. He was a member of the Evangelical Mennonite Brethren Church in Steinbach and later a founding member of the Christian Fellowship Chapel in Winnipeg. In retirement, he built hand-crafted furniture and clocks for his friends and family.
Birth registration [Franz Sawatzky], Manitoba Vital Statistics.
“Mennonite aviation innovation in Steinbach: Pietenpol fever,” Steinbach Carillon, 7 June 1957.
“F. W. Sawatzky Ltd. announcement,” Winnipeg Tribune, 19 March 1960, page 36.
“Pietenpol Airplane is airborne in Auto City,” Steinbach Carillon, 13 September 1972.
Reflections On Our Heritage: A History of Steinbach and the R.M. of Hanover From 1874 by Abe Warkentin, 1971, pages 142, 150.
Obituary, Winnipeg Free Press, 20 May 1999, page 44.
This page was prepared by Lois Abraham and Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 14 April 2023