Kehler, Jacob (1863-1923)

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Jacob and Elisabeth Kehler and  oldest granddaughter, Annie Penner, ca. 1913. Preservings photo.

Jacob Kehler (known commonly as “Berliner” Kehler): farmer and community leader; born on 11 March 1863 in Russia to Gerhard and Susanna (Ketler) Kehler. He was the 10th of fifteen children in the family. The family immigrated to Canada in 1875 when Jacob was 12 years old and settled in Hochfeld, a small village near Steinbach, Manitoba. He was baptized on 2 June 1884, joining the Chortitzer Mennonite Church.  At age 13, Jacob obtained a job helping out with hauling and carrying jobs for Dr. Isaac  L. Warkentin (1845-1929), a popular lay doctor in Blumenhof. Later, he went to work for a Mager family in Winnipeg. Here he became fluent in English. Later in life, he was able to use his knowledge of Russian, Ukrainian, English, German, and Yiddish, especially in facilitating political events.

In April 1884, Jacob Kehler married Elisabeth Schultz, and the couple took the unusual step of setting up a house on a vacant school lot, where there was no village, about a half a mile east of Hochfeld. Not long after establishing their home, a friend asked Jacob what the place they were living was called. Remembering that he had passed through the great city of Berlin, Germany, on his way to Canada, jokingly he replied it was called “Berlin”.  This was the start of the nickname which was used so extensively that many in the Manitoba East Reserve did not even know that his name was Jacob.

In 1891, the growing family moved to a farm at Ebenfeld, where Jacob began to build barns and buy livestock. To supplement his income, he took outside jobs, including one at a nearby sawmill and another driving herds of cattle to Winnipeg. Jacob “Berliner” Kehler worked in a variety of capacities, especially after his sons were old enough to help out on the farm. Besides his work as a translator, he helped in organizing political meetings, and he also served as the Municipal Councilor from 1906 to 1907. He worked as the government weed inspector, as well as helping with vaccinating local children against smallpox. Jacob worked briefly as a teacher, and he served as a Vorsänger (singing leader) for some time in the Choritzer Church. In his spare time, he wrote narrative poems, describing his life’s experiences, such as receiving treatments for the cancer that eventually killed him. He published some of these writings in the Steinbach Post. Jacob’s cancer eventually spread, and he died on 11 June 1923 in Ebenfeld, Manitoba. The Steinbach Post reported that it was a very large funeral with a procession of some 80 cars and over 500 people paying their final respects to this very popular man.

When his wife, Elisabeth, was about to die in 1943, she asked to be buried next to her husband, in the Hochfeld cemetery. She died on 5 February 1943. A severe snowstorm covered the Hochfeld cemetery at the time of her death. After considerable searching, the gravediggers were able to find Jacob Kehler’s grave and that is where they buried her, only to discover in the spring that she had accidentally been buried next to another Jacob Kehler. Grandson, professor Al Reimer, writes “if his gravestone had identified him as ‘Berliner’ Kehler, the mistake would probably not have happened…”


GRANDMA (The Genealogical Registry and Database of Mennonite Ancestry) Database, 5.03 ed. Fresno, CA: California Mennonite Historical Society, 2007: #185923.

Reimer, Al. “Jacob ‘Berliner’ Kehler (1863-1923), Ebenfeld.” Preservings No. 14 (June 1999): 110-114.

Author(s) Susan Huebert
Date Published 2007

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Huebert, Susan. "Kehler, Jacob (1863-1923)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 2007. Web. 23 Sep 2018.,_Jacob_(1863-1923)&oldid=135714.

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Huebert, Susan. (2007). Kehler, Jacob (1863-1923). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 23 September 2018, from,_Jacob_(1863-1923)&oldid=135714.

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