© Mennonite Heritage Centre, Winnipeg, Manitoba (Last updated October 22, 2012)
Retrieval numbers: Vol. 1132, 4843,5343-5344
Title: J.J. Siemens family collection
Extent: 24 cm of textual records
Repository: Mennonite Heritage Centre Archives
Jacob Johann Siemens (J.J. Siemens) was born on May 23, 1896 to Johann P. Siemens (1864-1958) and Anna Hiebert (1867-1952) in the Schoenthal district near Altona, Manitoba as the 5th of 11 children. Jacob Siemens attended the village school, the Mennonite Educational Institute in Altona and then Normal school in Winnipeg in preparation for a career in teaching.
He taught in the communities of Halbstadt and Lowe Farm, Manitoba. When his parents retired he left teaching and returned to the family farm in 1929. In ca. 1921 he married Maria Heinrichs (1901-1969) and together they had five children: Viola, John, Irene, Raymond, and Edith. The family was part of the Bergthaler Mennonite Church however Siemens had a difficult relationship with the church.
According to historian Rodney Sawatzky, Siemens is a "... most under-rated figure in 20th century western Canadian History". While being a dedicated farmer Siemens was interested in rural development and the general welfare of rural communities.
With the onset of the Great Depression in the 1930s and the collapse of the Mennonite Waisenamts (Church run aid organization) Siemens became a founder of the Rhineland Agricultural Society in 1931. The Society helped farmers in southern Manitoba in their effort to control crop and livestock diseases and helped them obtain seeds for new and better crop varieties through various educational opportunities. He believed in the youth of the community and provided avenues where they could get involved. Siemens served in various capacities for 20 years with this organization including as president and lecturer.
Through the agricultural society Siemens was a principle mover in the cooperative movement in western Canada. The cooperatives were a vehicle for mutual aid and Christian love in practice. He played a leading role in the development of Rhineland Consumer's Cooperative Ltd, Federation of Southern Manitoba cooperatives, Manitoba Coop Wholesale Ltd, Manitoba Cooperative Ltd., and the Manitoba Beet Growers Association. He was director of the Co-operative Union of Canada and active member of Manitoba Federation of Agriculture and Co-operation.
Siemens was a strong proponent of education. He believed it was through education that attitudes of people could be changed and a more enlightened outlook would bring more efficient farming methods, ensure the development of the cooperatives, and help sustain the rural communities. In 1937 Siemens founded the Rhineland Agricultural Institute (part of the Rhineland Agricultural Society) for training youth through short agricultural and home economic courses. It also had courses on Mennonite History and Christian ethics. While this institution ended in 1942, Siemens' drive and dream continued and he helped found the Western Co-operative College in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
One of Siemens' greatest achievements was the establishment of the sunflower industry in Southern Manitoba and the diversification of Manitoba farms. During WWII there was a critical shortage of vegetable oil. Siemens lobbied for a sunflower oil extraction plant in Altona which was established as Co-op Vegetable Oils Ltd in 1946. Jake Siemens was president from its founding until 1952 and on the board until 1958. In the mid 1950s rapeseed (Canola) was introduced as well.
"The Bergthaler Mennonite leadership rejected his vision as too socialistic and insufficiently orthodox. The resulting pro- and anti-cooperative division in much of the area between Altona and Winkler influenced both church and community very negatively". Siemens left the community and moved to Winnipeg where he lived for 10 years at which time he ran for the nomination as candidate of the New Democratic Party (NDP). Siemens died July 7, 1963. His funeral was in a Unitarian Church. In 1979 Siemens was conducted into the Manitoba Agriculture Hall of Fame.
Some of Siemens' children followed in his footsteps of community involvement via the Cooperative institutions. Most notable is Raymond Siemens (1932- ). After high school he enrolled at the University of Manitoba and then worked in Alberta. By the age of 21 he was back on the family 1100-acre farm where he experimented with different crops. In 1956 he became involved with the Manitoba Farmers Union. In 1958 he joined the board of directors of the Manitoba Dairy and Poultry Co-operative.
In 1962 Ray Siemens took his father's former position as president of CVO (Co-op Vegetable Oils) which later became known as CSP and currently (2008) as Bunge. Other involvements have included vice president of the Co-operative Union of Canada and board member of The Co-operators and the Co-operative College of Canada.
Ray Siemens is married to Dorothy Wiens and they have five children: Glen, David, Lisa, Christopher, and Timothy.
J.J. Siemens' oldest daughter, Viola Siemens (1923-2003) finished her public education at the MCI in Gretna, Manitoba and then taught school in Schoenau for one year and then enrolled at Bethel College in North Newton, Kansas. Here she met and later married Paul Andreas (1925-2007) who would become a medical doctor. This couple enjoyed traveling. In 1948 they spent 6 months cycling in Northern Europe, farmed in Altona 1948-1950. From 1951-1957 they lived in Mexico. In 1957 they moved to Wichita, Kansas. In 1970 they spent 2 years on a sail boat in the Pacific. In 1976 they settled in Kansas, and in 1998 moved to Galva, Kansas. They adopted Ruth in 1951 and had a son, Eric in 1960.
John Waldo Siemens (1926-2003) was born in Lowe Farm, Manitoba and finished his high school at the MCI. He was active in the Altona community playing hockey and playing in the community band. He attended Bluffton College in Ohio and one year in Germany as an exchange student. In 1951 he married Pauline Audet. After a brief stay on the Siemens family farm, they moved to Palo Alto, California where John became a teacher. They had two children: John (1957- ) and James (1960- ).
Irene Siemens (1930- ) married Gordon Stobbe (1927- ) in 1953. Together they had three children: Greta, Rachel and Elisabeth. In the mid 1950s they moved to Calgary, Alberta.
Edith Siemens (1935- ) married Norman Sharratt and had four children: Alison, Sandra, Lisa, and Bruce. They lived in Calgary, Alberta.
This collection consists of correspondence among the J.J. Siemens family predominantly from daughter Viola and son John when they were in college in the United States and to a lesser degree from J.J. Siemens and his wife Marie Siemens. There are some speeches and correspondence by J.J. Siemens related to the Rhineland agricultural Society, Consumer's Cooperative, Co-op Vegetables Oils Ltd., and cooperatives generally as well as newspaper clippings. Publications regarding co-operatives and Mennonite History are also found in this fonds. There is one small file consisting of correspondence and research notes regarding the writing of a Siemens biography.
This material gives a glimpse into the life of J.J. Siemens as an important individual in western Canada and the Mennonite community. The documents show some of his activities with co-operatives and agriculture. This collection also gives a window into the lives of his adult children and Siemens family dynamics.
Finding aid consists of a file list.
The Rural Municipality of Rhineland 1884-1984/Gerhard Ens, 1984.
Spirit of the Post Road : a story of self-help communities / Robert Meyers, 1955.
"Jacob John Siemens and the Co-Operative Movement in Southern Manitoba, 1929-1955"/ Henry Dyck, 1982.
Interview with D.D. Klassen includes some info on J.J. Siemens. (2005-095)
Hans Werner, "Sacred, Secular and Material: The Thought of J.J. Siemens", in Jornal of Mennonite Studies, volume 17, 1999, p. 194-210.
Rhineland Agricultural Society papers.
Federation of Southern Manitoba CO-OPs volumes 3881, 3884-3898.
The first donation of materials came from Ed Klassen of Homewood, Manitoba in 1977. Klassen appears to have been also involved or interested in the co-operative movement. Included were reports, minutes correspondence, and publications. The second donation came as photocopies from the Mennonite Archives of Ontario in 1998 from the [Frank H. Epp?] collection. The third donation came in 2008 from the Rodney Sawatzky's estate. Sawatzky was collecting materials for a biography on Siemens which was never completed. J.J. Siemens destroyed most of his papers before he died, and thus very little documentation was found for all his activities.
Described by Conrad Stoesz July 30, 2008, updated by Stoesz February 20, 2009.
None to access
Accession numbers: 1998-072, 2008-062.
1 Minutes, reports and correspondence from various co-op organizations including Federated Co-operatives Limited, Cooperative institute, Federation of Southern
Manitoba cooperatives. -- 1956-1957.
2 Annual report from [Federation of Southern Manitoba Cooperatives?]. -- [1951?].
3 Mennonite History materials including draft texts and minutes of the Woher Whohin Mennoniten committee of the Rhineland Agricultural Society. -- 1945-1948.
4 Correspondence with E.K. Francis. -- 1946-1949.
5 E.K. Francis publications regarding Mennonites. -- 1948-1950.
6 Co-op related publications including Canadian Co-operative Digest, Winkler Co-op 25th anniversary report, 50 years 1928-1978 Co-operative Retailing
System, Consumer cooperation and the Society of the Future. --1967-1978.
7 Mennonite related history publications including Bericht, Mennonite Colonization/ Fretz, Christian Peace/Smith. -- 1938-1944.
8 Correspondence regarding co-op research and newspaper clipping. -- 1967, 1971.