Mennonite Heritage Village

Steinbach’s First Families – Jacob T. & Aganetha (Giesbrecht) Barkman

June 13, 2024

By Nathan Dyck

Jacob T. Barkman and his wife Aganetha voyaged to Canada with his parents, Peter K. and Anna Barkman, arriving earlier than most other families in July of 1874. Aganetha had a half-brother, Gerhard Giesbrecht, who settled on Wirtschaft 8, and a brother Wilhem (Wirtschaft 18 in 1878), and sister Margaretha (Wirtschaft 14). Along with Jacob’s close family and other relations, he and Aganetha were closely related to many of the early Steinbach settlers. With them was their infant son Jacob, who died just after his first birthday on Oct. 26, 1874 – likely the first death in the newly founded village.

Jacob was industrious, and historian G.G. Kornelsen defended the idea that he was the first shopkeeper in the village, selling a variety of household goods and later farm tools, wire and machinery. While the honour of opening the first store in Steinbach goes to Klaas R. Reimer, Jacob sold John Deere plows and Maxwell farm machines alongside of his other wares. He became part-owner in his father’s flour mill, where he also worked, but in 1884 had one of the lowest tax assessments in the village, farming only eight acres of land. In 1890, Jacob and Aganetha sold their property to Abram W. Reimer and moved to Heuboden (near Kleefeld) and ran a small store and farm.

Aganetha was remembered for her dedication to her family, not only raising her own children but her grandchildren after two of her daughters-in-law died within months of each other. She passed away in 1918, a victim of the Spanish Flu. Jacob was remarried to Maria Fast, originally of Wirtschaft 3. Jacob died in 1935 and was remembered as a fun-loving tease, and a tough man who drove a team of fiery broncos while wearing only thin gloves, even late in life.

Aganetha and Jacob T. Barkman (seated front) with children Johann, Peter, Margaretha and Elisabeth. Credit: Ralph Friesen, Between Earth and Sky, 86.

One of Jacob and Aganetha’s sons, Johann G. Barkman, moved to Blumenort after marrying Helena R. Reimer. He was the last cheesemaker working in the old Blumenort cheese factory. In 1925, he moved to Santata, Kansas and became a school teacher and preacher in the local Kleine Gemeinde church. He and his second wife, Sara P. Reimer, returned to Blumenort in 1937 where he operated a small shoe store. Daughter Margaretha married Jacob R. Reimer of Blumenort, but they moved to the Quellen colony in Mexico. She was the only one of the six surviving children to move away permanently from the East Reserve.

Correction: The article from June 6th listed Mill St. as having been renamed to 2nd St. It is the former name of 1st St.

Upcoming Events: 

Heritage Booth at Summer in the City, June 15-16th. Come down and visit us on Main Street in Steinbach during Summer in the City to buy a waffle or some candy, or learn about Steinbach’s 150 year history with displays and tours.

What Happened at Fort Dufferin? Free webinar hosted by the Center for Transnational Mennonite Studies and MHV. Enjoy this lecture by Eleanore Chornoboy on the experience of the Mennonites first arrival at the immigration station on the Red River. For more information and to register, visit

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.

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.