Mennonite Heritage Village

Steinbach’s First Families – Gerhard & Anna (Kornelsen) Giesbrecht, Aganetha Eidse

June 27, 2024

By Nathan Dyck

Gerhard Giesbrecht was raised in Molotschna by his father who ran a small shop, as he was unable to do manual labour. His mother, Eva Ratzlaff, died when he was an infant and by the age of 12 Gerhard was sent out to work for more well-off families. In 1871, he married Anna Kornelsen and they had two children in the two years before migrating to Canada. They arrived in Québec aboard the Austrian on August 31, 1874 with their children, 2 years and 8 months old, in tow.

Anna Kornelsen was the daughter of teacher Gerhard S. Kornelsen, who followed his daughter to Manitoba in 1875 and settled in Lichtenau, a village 2 miles west of Steinbach. He drafted the regulations that governed the Kleine Gemeinde schools in Manitoba and served as fire chief for eight years. Anna had eight children, five of whom survived to adulthood and she passed away in 1885, less than a year after the birth of her youngest child.

Gerhard had three siblings who also settled in the village of Steinbach. His older half-brother Wilhelm, who purchased Wirtschaft 3 in 1878, sister Margaretha of Wirtschaft 14, and Aganetha of Wirtschaft 6. In the first winter, Gerhard and Anna built on a structure attached to the Wiebe’s of Wirtschaft 7, with a hallway in between which allowed both families to save on construction and heating. Almost a decade after arrival, Gerhard served as the schulz (mayor) of Steinbach and he and Anna decided to join the Holdeman Church around this time.

Aganetha Eidse Giesbrecht (right), with daughter Aganetha, 1940. Credit: Ralph Friesen, Between Earth and Sky, 92.

In 1885, after the death of Anna, Gerhard remarried Aganetha Eidse of Rosenort, in the West Reserve. She was 20 years his junior and was seemingly pressured into the marriage by her step-mother. Due to the marriage, some land that she was to inherit was passed to her new husband and she was put in charge of his 5 children. She was known to say, “When we got married, I got the children and he got the land.”1 About a decade later, the family moved to the growing Holdeman settlement of Greenland. Aganetha would go on to have twelve children of her own, six of whom survived to adulthood. When Gerhard passed away in 1907 she remained single, stating she didn’t want another widower and his children in her life.

Of the 11 children that survived, the majority stayed in the East Reserve, settling either in Greenland or Blumenort. Anna’s eldest son,

Gerhard, worked at the Pine Hill sawmill (25 miles from Steinbach, off the 404 between Marchand and Sandilands)2 and was severely wounded when his knee was cut by a circular blade. He limped the rest of his life, earning him the moniker “Lame Giesbrecht.” He became a teacher in Blumenort before joining the Whatshan Mennonite community in British Columbia. Aganetha’s son Cornelius married a Steinbach girl, granddaughter of original residents Peter and Elisabeth Toews of Wirtschaft 12. Together they built a large-scale poultry farm in Greenland which earned Cornelius the title of “Chicken King.”

Wirtschaft 8 changed hands several times after Gerhard and Aganetha sold it in 1896. Peter W. Toews, known as Schmett or “Blacksmith”, first bought the property. It was later sold to Klaas I. Friesen, a teamster who became one of the foremost breeders of Hackney horses in Manitoba. He would haul freight from the CNR station in Giroux to Steinbach, and gravel from local pits. They used the property to open a livery stable and guest house, where his wife would host many visitors around their table.3

Upcoming Events: 

Canada Day at MHV, July 1st. FREE ADMISSION sponsored by RocketRez. Enjoy interpretation, tours, children’s activities, barrel-train and wagon rides, candy booth, live entertainment and so much more, all before heading to the fireworks hosted by the City of Steinbach.

Heritage Classic Car Show, July 20th. Join us at the MHV for a day of classic cars on our village street. Regular admission rates apply. Join us for a pre-show breakfast at the Livery Barn Restaurant at 8:30am. For more details or to register a vehicle, visit:

Pioneer Days, August 3rd-5th. Celebrate the 150th anniversary of Mennonites arriving in Manitoba this August Long Weekend. Experience the life of the early Mennonites in Manitoba at our Pioneer Days festival! Witness pioneer demonstrations, steam-powered threshing, live music, and lots of good food as we share the stories of Manitoba Mennonite beginnings. Experience the grand opening of the new exhibit: Mennonite Reflections – Arriving in Manitoba 150 Years Ago

Mennonite Village Photography Exhibit, open now till summer 2024. See a beautiful collection of never-before-seen photographs left behind by four Manitoba Mennonite photographers who lived and worked in the early twentieth century. The images are from glass and film negatives from 1890 to 1940. After being scanned and given a new life in print, the photos provide a clear view into Mennonite life and early settlement in Manitoba.

  1. Irene Toews, “Aganetha Eidse Giesbrecht,” Preservings, no. 10 (1997), 65. ↩︎
  2. Levina Reimer, “Aganetha Barkman Reimer 1859-1955,” Preservings, no. 17 (2000), 102. ↩︎
  3. “Profile of Klaas I. Friesen #4139,” GRanDMA OnLine. ↩︎