Mennonite Heritage Village

Steinbach’s First Families – Heinrich and Charlotte (Maria) Fast

May 23, 2024

By Nathan Dyck

As we continue our look back 150 years to the first families of Steinbach, MHV would love to invite you to join us tomorrow, May 24th to reminisce on our own 60 years of heritage. Our Spring Gala begins at 5:45 with cocktails and the dinner program begins at 6:30. Tickets available at

On August 31, 1874, Heinrich Fast and his wife Charlotte (called Maria) arrived in Québec aboard the Austrian, set to embark for their new home in Manitoba. Heinrich Fast was originally from Fischau, Molotschna, and married Charlotte Loepp in 1850, a Lutheran whose family had migrated to Russia in 1839. They moved around the Mennonite colonies for several years before settling in Nikolaithal, Kherson, where they joined the Kleine Gemeinde. This new religious community demanded greater outward humility, and Charlotte changed her name to Maria at this time in deference to these traditions. By the time they set out for Canada two of their daughters, Maria and Elisabeth, were already married and had migrated to Kansas, but their three younger children, Cornelius, Sarah and Heinrich joined them on the journey.

On arriving in Manitoba, they first spent some time in Gruenfeld (Kleefeld) where Heinrich crafted a scythe from a blade he had brought from Russia which he used to clear a large patch of grass when they arrived at Wirtschaft 3 in Steinbach on September 25. They awoke the next morning to frost covering their blankets as they slept in the clearing! Due to their arrival late in the season, the Fasts shared a semlin built across the property line with their Kroeker neighbours. Joining them in the semlin was a pair of oxen, who did not make it through the harsh winter as they lacked the supply of hay their Kroeker neighbours were able to source from the Clearspring settlers.

In 1880, the Fasts had built themselves a house, but chose to leave Steinbach in 1882 for a quarter-section of land they purchased from the Hudson’s Bay Company south of the town. In honour of his birthplace, Heinrich named his new home Fischau where they were joined by Cornelius P. and Anna Toews. Cornelius farmed the area for years before joining the Holdeman community in Greenland at the end of the 1890s. Their neighbours, the Kroekers, purchased the Wirtschaft 3 from the Fasts and their daughter Margaretha and her husband took over the property. Heinrich and Charlotte lived in Fischau until they passed, first Charlotte in 1887 and Heinrich in 1890.

The Fasts’ children led very diverse lives. Eldest Maria migrated to Kansas with her husband in 1873 but her husband passed in 1877. She came to Manitoba and married Isaac Harms who was 41 years her senior, who passed away two years later. Her third marriage was to Chortitzer widower Dietrich Klassen of Bergthal, with whom she was able to spend 28 years. She was married one final time to widower Jacob T. Barkman, son of original Steinbach residents Peter K. and Anna Barkman. Elisabeth married Jacob Friesen, a cousin of the Steinbach pioneer of the same name and remained in Kansas and Oklahoma.

Cornelius was 17 when the family immigrated to Canada, and he first made a living selling firewood to families in the West Reserve. After marrying Margaretha Giesbrecht, he hauled freight for K.W. Reimer’s store before eventually settling in the Morden area. Daughter Sarah married Johann F. Toews and they lived in Fischau with her parents for two decades. Johann was a miller and tanner, and in 1901 they migrated to Stuartburn where he continued his practice and Sarah was known for her massage and ability to heal broken bones. They were members of the Holdeman church, but Johann came into conflict with leadership, was excommunicated and was unsuccessful in bringing legal action against the church. The youngest, Heinrich, married Maria Dueck of Gruenfeld, where they settled, and he became a blacksmith, farmer, and postmaster for more than 50 years. After Maria’s death in 1900, he married Elisabeth Schellenberg of Rosenfeld, and they were married over 50 years.

For more information, see: Ralph Friesen, Between Earth and Sky, 67-71.

Upcoming Events:

It Takes a Village… Spring Gala 2024, May 24th. Celebrate the MHV’s 60th anniversary and the 150th anniversary of Mennonites in Manitoba by contributing to this ongoing legacy. Tickets are on sale now at

Historic Buildings and Livery Barn Restaurant are open now!

Tractor Drive Fundraiser, June 8th. Join us at MHV for the 15th annual Tractor Drive fundraiser, supporting the work of MHV and proceeds going toward Eden Foundation. If you have access to an antique tractor, sign up in advance at MHV, or join us on the day for a buffet breakfast, or a traditional Mennonite buffet dinner. Come out and cheer on the drivers!

Maawanji’iding Ziigwan– Spring Gathering, May 30th, 6-9pm. Join the Hanover Teacher’s Association and the MHV in celebrating our partnerships with the Indigenous community. This evening of culture teaching and story-telling features Cory Campbell, Ojibway Songkeeper and Storyteller and Elder James Nelson erecting a tipi. The tipi raising begins around 4pm. 

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.