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Between Earth and Sky: Steinbach, The First 50 Years

by Ralph Friesen

The Steinbach Heritage Committee
September 2009

ISBN 978-1-55099-172-1
$24.95 (paper), $29.95 (hard)


by Royden Loewen

In 1874, eighteen Low German-speaking Mennonite families built a peaceful, closely-knit farm village on the eastern edge of the great Canadian prairie. Steinbach was part of a larger Mennonite community that was settling in the new province of Manitoba after receiving assurances of military exemption, educational freedom and land from the Canadian government. Over the next 50 years one generation melded into the next and Steinbach slowly evolved into a regional commercial center, welcomed newcomers, and built ties to other communities. But it never departed from the original faith-based principles—a close knit and supportive community, peace and nonviolence, close ties to the land, and humble before God and neighbour.

The author of this book, Ralph Friesen, is a native son of Steinbach. His great great grandmother delivered the village’s first babies, his great grandfather built the village windmill, his father ran a small business on Main Street and was a minister in the local Evangelical Mennonite Church. Ralph himself attended high school here, before marrying Hannah Hofer of Hutterite background and embarking on a successful career as a civil servant and then marriage counselor. He writes this book as an insider. He knows the family lines, the village nuances, the Low German culture. He has a keen eye for the poetic, the unique, the ironic. His very close reading of newspapers and other documents of the time brings out all the colour and dynamic zest of Steinbach’s first residents.

The men and women in this book are human, they have foibles, some are scoundrels, most are earthy, peaceful, hard working, committed to family and village. This book is not for people interested in a dry, encyclopedic history of events and dates and institutions. This book breaths the passion, romance, hope, betrayals, of a real community. The people in this book love life, they are closely tied to nature, they relate easily across ethnic lines. And they are committed to Mennonite distinctives of nonviolence, of service to others, of simplicity, of discipleship.

Steinbach’s history is a deeply rooted one; perhaps in earlier books undue attention was given to the town’s 1947 incorporation, its retail and manufacturing accomplishments, and lists of its modern day achievers. This book is about Steinbach’s pioneers and the genius of the first generations. It is a tribute to those who created the foundation for Steinbach of today, a welcoming and caring place, a place to serve others, develop one’s gifts and embrace the joys of life.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Steinbach, Borosenko

3. 1874: Immigration and Settlement

Finding a Homeland
Encounter with the Métis

4. Original Families

Family profiles
Family relationships

5. 1875-81: “Marvellous Transformation”

Governance: village organization and survival
Commerce: forestry and milling
Religion: unity threatened
Education: the old system

6. 1882-1902: Church Splits and the Rise of the “Metropolis”

Religion: competing theologies
Agriculture: steam at its ascendancy
Commerce: “low estate” vs. “business class”
Transportation: the railroad passes by
Demographics: rise of a new generation
Governance: Bergthaler in charge
Education: holding the line
Health: death and birth

7. 1903-1913: Loss of the Commons

Governance: end of the Strassendorf
Agriculture: gasoline power
Commerce: new faces
Infrastructure: expansion of communication
Migration: wandering fever
Religion: pushing back the boundaries
Education: public vs. private
Health: scientific medicine

8. 1914-1919: Saved by Grace—And Industry

Germans under suspicion
Agriculture on a bigger scale
Commerce: invasion of the automobiles
Governance: “city” sidewalks
Religion: train of grace
Education: the age of English
Health: the flu epidemic

9. 1920-24: Advent of the Russländer

Migrations: Russländer arrival
Commerce: looking more like a city
Governance: “Steinbach Village District”
Recreation & culture: the organization of leisure
Education: something sleeping now awakened
Religion: new churches
Health: vaccination against contagion

10. The Years to Come

How to Buy Copies

Between Earth and Sky: Steinbach, The First 50 Years is available at the following locations:




Mennonite Heritage Village Bookstore
(204) 326-9661


McNally-Robinson Booksellers
1120 Grant Avenue
(204) 475-0483

Books on Manitoba History

Posted: 7 April 2010

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