Barkman, Johann G. (1858-1937)

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Johann G. and Margaretha (Friesen) Barkman.
Source: Preservings photo.

Johann G. Barkman: farmer and civic politician; born 14 March 1858 in Waldheim, Molotschna Colony, Russia. He was the son of Jakob M. (1824-1875) and Elisabeth (Giesbrecht) Barkman (1830-1858). He was the fifth of six children in the family. Johann immigrated to Canada on 20 August 1874, landing in Quebec before moving to Manitoba. He was baptized on 20 August 1876 in Manitoba and married Margaretha Friesen (1858-1946), daughter of Jakob and Katharina (Schierling) Friesen on 6 January 1878. The couple had ten children. Johann died on 20 October 1927 in Steinbach, Manitoba.   

Johann G. Barkman spent his early years in the Molotschna Colony, but his family moved when he was about nine years old to Friedensfeld, a Kleine Gemeinde settlement north of Nikopol. Another move came in 1874 when changes to the Russian government’s policies towards Mennonites made many of them seek a new homeland. Johann’s mother had already died, but he and the rest of his family joined 18 other families on their move to Canada. They settled in Manitoba, where they bought land and began to farm. Tragedy struck the next year when Johann’s father and another man, Jakob K. Friesen, drowned while trying to cross the Red River. Three years later, on 6 January 1878, Johann married Margaretha, daughter of the other drowning victim. The ceremony took place in Grünfeld, and the couple settled on property in Steinbach, Manitoba. Johann and Margaretha were rebaptized in 1882 and joined the Holdeman church.

Together with his wife and growing family, Johann G. Barkman settled into life in Steinbach. Johann’s sister and brother-in-law lived next door to the Barkmans, and the families remained neighbors for 35 years. Although Johann and Margaretha lived in poor circumstances for the first years of their marriage, they soon managed to become quite wealthy, with large amounts of land, several buildings, and livestock. Johann bought modern equipment when he could, and in 1905, the family had a windmill. Another purchase was a telephone, which Johann and Margaretha installed by 1910.

Johann G. Barkman, besides being a successful farmer, was involved in community life. Between 1884 and 1912, he served as mayor of Steinbach, with only one three-year break in his tenure. During his time in office, Johann helped to dissolve the Strassendorf village plan whereby the town oversaw land ownership and distributed property to the farmers in trust. Instead, the farmers adopted a more common North American system of land ownership in which each purchaser was able to obtain the title for the farmland. Some business owners had been reluctant to establish themselves in the area because of the Strassendorf system, and this change helped to make their enterprises in Steinbach more viable. The process of changing the land ownership system was long and complicated as each landowner had to negotiate property titles with the committee in charge, but no major crises occurred. By 28 October 1911, the new survey of land in Steinbach was completed and the town soon began to grow.

Change came again for Johann G. Barkman and his family. In 1913, Johann and Margaretha sold their property to their son and moved across the street, but only three years later, they decided to move with several other Holdeman families to Texas. Johann went ahead to investigate the possibilities in Littlefield, and in October 1916, the family moved there. However, 1916 was not a good time for pacifists to try to establish themselves in that community, where support for soldiers fighting in the First World War was high. The Barkmans quickly decided to return to their own community in Manitoba and arrived back in their hometown in August of 1917.

Moving to Texas and then leaving again so quickly had drained the family savings, but Johann G. Barkman, Margaretha, and their children soon started to rebuild their lives. Johann started a feed and flour business, frequently traveling eight miles to the grain elevator in Giroux before returning to Steinbach to sell the bags of flour. He made deliveries in the neighborhood using a steel-wheeled wagon. Johann’s business was successful despite having to compete with the Steinbach Flour Mills and several other companies. By the time he retired, he had recovered some of the money lost in the Texas venture and was able to live quite well. He died on 20 October 1927 in Steinbach, Manitoba.

Johann G. Barkman's progressive ideas and hard work left a legacy for both his family and for Steinbach. His dedication and unwillingness to be crushed by his troubles were exemplary.


Barkman, Roland. "Johann G. Barkman (1858-1937):  Pioneer Mayor."  Preservings, No. 12 (June 1998): 50-53.  

GRANDMA (The Genealogical Registry and Database of Mennonite Ancestry) Database, 5.03 ed. Fresno, CA: California Mennonite Historical Society, 2007: #4039.

Author(s) Susan Huebert
Date Published November 2007

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Huebert, Susan. "Barkman, Johann G. (1858-1937)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. November 2007. Web. 7 Dec 2023.,_Johann_G._(1858-1937)&oldid=112157.

APA style

Huebert, Susan. (November 2007). Barkman, Johann G. (1858-1937). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 7 December 2023, from,_Johann_G._(1858-1937)&oldid=112157.

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