Friesen, Peter Dietrich "Pete" (1922–2009)

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Pete Friesen (1922-2009)

Peter Dietrich "Pete" Friesen: businessman and inventor; born 31 March 1922 near the village of Ekaterinoslav in the Ukraine region of southern Russia, Peter was the first child of Dietrich Friesen and Anna (Unger) Friesen, who married the previous year while fleeing the post-revolutionary bloodshed that had claimed many of their family members. Peter’s older half-brother (Jacob) was from Dietrich’s former marriage to Aganetha (nee Heinrichs) who had been murdered along with another son (Kornelius). After Anna and Dietrich Friesen immigrated to Canada in 1924, Jacob and Peter were joined by one sister (Frieda) and three more brothers (Bill, Walter, and John). While serving as a Conscientious Objector within the Canadian Army, Peter Friesen married Edith Markham on 12 August 1944, in Saint John, New Brunswick, and while living in British Columbia (BC), they had four sons and one daughter: Peter, Paul, John, Eric, and Joy. Predeceased by sons Peter and Paul, and survived by his wife Edith and their children, John, Eric, and Joy, Pete Friesen passed peacefully at home in Lynden, Washington on 11 February 2009, and was buried in Abbotsford, BC.

As a youngster living near Provost, Alberta from 1925 to 1934, "Little Pete" Friesen pursued his interest in all things mechanical, and he began repairing equipment on his family’s farm at a very early age. As a seven-year-old, replacing a faulty part in the farm windmill, he had a close encounter with death: slipping from the metal trusses above, he grasped an edge of the wooden service platform on the way down, hanging on with one hand and holding the spare part in the other, while swinging in the wind, thirty-seven feet above the ground. Pete thereafter regarded this event as a turning point in his life. In the process of completing a successful windmill repair, he underwent an intense period of introspection that produced a guiding principle he would forever follow—derch denche, think it through, visualize! Fifteen years later, while being honorably discharged from the Canadian Army, Pete formulated his motto for life: "If the door of opportunity opens, I will always walk through." The next year, while farming in British Columbia, he traded his chainsaw for rudimentary house-moving equipment, and when the promised guidance failed to appear at the scene, Pete Friesen engaged his guiding principle—visualization—in teaching himself how to raise a building with mechanical screw-jacks and how to move it thirty miles on antiquated transport dollies.

In 1948, at age 26, Pete designed and manufactured a new type of screw-jack that was safer and more efficient. By 1955, he had incorporated hydraulic-fluid technology into further improved jacks as part of his renowned invention—the Unified Hydraulic Jacking System—that regulated hydraulic pressure simultaneously to multiple jacks, allowing a heavy, fragile load to be raised in a smooth and balanced manner. This invention immediately pushed the structural-moving industry to a higher level by permitting large, complex structures to be relocated as never before thought possible. Pete also designed and manufactured a task-specific truck trailer capable of transferring numerous prefabricated homes between barge and shore within one high-tide interval. Utilizing his leading-edge technology, Pete’s company (Modern Building Movers) was known to have moved fourteen houses in one day and four hundred buildings in one year.

Often a board member while serving as a Sunday-school superintendent and teacher at the Yarrow Mennonite Brethren Church, the Yarrow Alliance Church, or the New Westminster Evangelical Free Church, Pete Friesen was also a founding director of Trinity Junior College (later, Trinity Western University).

In the mid-1960s, Pete sold his house-moving business to begin manufacturing prefabricated homes as sole proprietor of Coast Homes. After accepting a contract to supply 4,000 motel-style living-units for the world’s fair in Montreal (Expo 67), Pete Friesen designed one of the most efficient assembly lines imaginable: a system of manual rollers and fifty-seven employees produced forty-eight living-units per day! However, unfortunate circumstances soon forced him into bankruptcy court where he lost his company and almost all personal assets. Aided by a friend’s timely loan, Pete became reestablished in northern British Columbia by operating a batch-plant cement-mixing operation and driving a logging truck, before starting-up a specialized sawmill operation.

In 1970, a telephone call from Chicago launched Pete Friesen on a career path that made him widely recognized and often celebrated within the international structural-moving community. During the next thirty years, as an owner/operator and as a consultant, he masterminded many of North America’s most significant building relocations. As well as going about the everyday business of moving houses, shopping plazas, and office buildings, Friesen applied his inventions and innovative techniques to help preserve numerous buildings of architectural and/or historic significance in the United States—from schools, libraries, theaters, and hotels to fire stations, railway stations, airport terminals, and lighthouses. For their “Move of the Century” relocation of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Pete and his crew received the Opal Award—for leadership and engineering excellence—presented annually by the American Society of Civil Engineers. As a senior citizen, Pete also found time to write computer programs for his highly regarded methods for finding a building’s center of gravity and for determining its weight. His moving projects created four entries in The Guinness Book of World Records.

Starting out as a mechanically minded farmer, Peter Friesen became a self-taught house mover whose inventions and innovative techniques brought him international acclaim as a leader in the structural-moving industry where his colleagues respectfully referred to him as "Mr. Pete" or "Mr. Mover." In respecting his lifetime of accomplishment, it has been suggested that Pete Friesen was into "lateral thinking" before many people knew the term existed. At the end of his life, Pete was busily engaged in design of a new and improved, two-direction, steerable transport dolly for use in the industry. In a home filled with photographs and project memorabilia, he cherished one plaque above all others: a lifetime achievement award from an organization he helped create—the International Association of Structural Movers – "To Pete Friesen who has spent a lifetime doing the impossible and made it possible for others to do likewise."


Rowlands, Peter. Man on the Move: The Pete Friesen Story. iUniverse, 2009.

Author(s) Peter Rowlands
Date Published January 2010

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MLA style

Rowlands, Peter. "Friesen, Peter Dietrich "Pete" (1922–2009)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. January 2010. Web. 20 Sep 2018.,_Peter_Dietrich_%22Pete%22_(1922%E2%80%932009)&oldid=94753.

APA style

Rowlands, Peter. (January 2010). Friesen, Peter Dietrich "Pete" (1922–2009). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 20 September 2018, from,_Peter_Dietrich_%22Pete%22_(1922%E2%80%932009)&oldid=94753.

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