Nick R. Wiebe - Founder of Wiebe Funeral Homes

The long-standing, multi-branched Wiebe Funeral Homes had their humble beginnings in September of 1949, in the very small community of Winkler, in south central Manitoba. Since the turn of the century, and even as early as the mid-1870s, Winkler was home to many Mennonite families who were fleeing from the oppression of the corrupt Russian government. Most of the new settlers in the area were originally from the southern Ukraine.

Families who already had established properties in southern Manitoba would, out of the goodness of their hearts, host entire families in their homes for extended periods of time, until the immigrant family became self-sufficient enough to go it on their own. The government of Canada helped these new citizens by making a free transfer of land to homesteaders.

Nick R. Wiebe, founder of Wiebe Funeral Homes, made his journey from Russia as a child in 1926. Russia was heading into another revolution which would change many lives forever, and the closure of all borders was fast approaching when the Wiebe family left. Nick's father and mother, along with eight children and another on the way, left their entire farm, and all their buildings and animals, and made their way to Germany. From there they went to Southampton, England, where they boarded a ship and continued the journey to Manitoba. Nick's mother was almost nine months pregnant when the family made their escape. She delivered a healthy little boy an Henry (known as Hank) between England and Caza. He would eventually become his older brother Nice right hand to as the two of them operated the Wiebe Funeral Home of Altona many years later.

There was no modern funeral service in the newly-populated Mennonite communities in those early years. Disposition was handled by families for their own, and the only means of preservation prior to burial was fabric wrapping and ice. Needless to say, this caused discomfort and added hardship to an already difficult life for these poor families, who were losing parents, children and siblings to an onslaught of illness and poor nutrition at an alarming rate. Nick's father, John N. Wiebe, was a 'bonesetter' by trade after his arrival in Canada in September of 1926, as his father had been in Russia before him.

When Canada was beginning its involvement in the Second World War, Nick enlisted in the RCAF based in  Brampton, Ontario. There he spent time as a wireless airgunner, radioing in-coming planes on the airstrip. Through a young recruit's negligence, Nick was badly injured in a flare gun accident. He was honourably discharged and, after he recovered, he moved to Toronto. It was the early 1940's, and Nick soon found work driving for a local ambulance company. Very often, when he was transferring ailing and injured people to local hospitals, Nick was asked to make an alternate turn to Sherrin's Funeral Home instead of the hospital. This happened so often that the employees at the funeral home got to know Nick well. They finally said, "Nick, you come here so often, we have an opening apprentice position, why don't you come to work for us?" In 1947, Nick decided to make a career change, and so he began what would be forty-plus years in the funeral business. He received his embalmer's and funeral director's license in 1948 from the Banting Institute, Humber College.

In 1949, Nick got a phone call telling him that his mother, Sarah Wiebe, had died in Winkler. Upon arriving in town a few days later, he saw that the antiquated methods of the local undertaker had left his mother in very poor condition.  At that point, Nick knew that this nearly-forgotten, sparsely populated part of southern Manitoba had a great need for modernized funeral business practices and techniques. In 1949, Nick packed up his belongings, and he and his wife Lorraine moved to Winkler. He struggled to borrow the $750 he needed to buy a small building, a 1939 Henney Packard hearse, and some basic funeral equipment. (This equipment included a refrigeration unit that was later sold to a local hotel, where it cooled beer for a good many years afterward.)



The first Wiebe Funeral Home was dragged on skids from Main Street, Winkler, through a back yard, and onto Nick's father John's property on 4th Street. This very small, three-roomed building served as the local funeral home from 1949 until 1960, when the existing Wiebe Funeral Home (on 8th Street) was built. Nick had enough foresight into the need for modernized funeral services in the area to call his brother Hank to work with him serving the Altona District, twenty-five miles east of Winkler, in 1951. Nick also saw an opportunity to buy into, and eventually buy out, a funeral home in Morden, eight miles west of Winkler, in 1954. This purchase completed the area that Nick wanted to cover and operate, so he settled down serve the communities he had chosen. He was also working hard to feed his wife and two so, Alan and Rick, and to pay off his large debt. This took some work, since his income from funeras averaged $150 complete. In those early years, the Winkler funeral home averaged about the ty to thirty to forty calls a year, a few less in Morden, and even fewer in the very small community of Altona.

In 1961, Nick's brother John, who was living in Toronto, expressed interest in funeral service, and with the purchase of a little bit of equipment and an old hardware store, Nick taught his older brother embalming and funeral procedure. With that knowledge, John Wiebe started the Wiebe Funeral Homein Morris, which operated independently of the other three Wiebe Funeral Homes. (Morris is forty miles north-east of Winkler, and thirty-five miles south of Winnipeg.) After John's death in 1978, his son Jeff Wiebe took over the Morris funeral home, and is still operating it with his wife Kathy.

In 1962 and 1963, Nick realized that the converted 1/2 storey Wiebe Funeral Home in downtown Morden was deteriorating. When his dream of being able to purchase the funeral chapel on the hill became a reality, Nick, Hank and Nick's son Rick, along with some others, to down the old building and moved the Wiebe Funeral Chapel business to the west edge of the town of Morden. Rick, who is now the owner of Wiebe Funeral Home Ltd. in Winkler and Morden, started full-time in funeral service with his Dad in 1971. Rick saw the need for close attention to and maintenance of the Morden Chapel, which sits on top of the first prairie escarpment just west of town on a beautiful 15-acre property, and is exposed harsh winds from the northwest. The concrete and building is very vulnerable to the elements, in part because of the exceptional volume of glass used in its construction.

In 1974, Rick, his former wife Janice, and their young Christopher moved into a mobile home tucked in behind the chapel, where they lived for a few years. Eventually built a home in the oak forest immediately south chapel, where Rick still lives.

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The original Pineview Chapel was built in 1960 by Clark-Leatherdale Funeral Home of Winnipeg. As a result of mismanagement and the fact that there were more funeral businesses in Morden and surrounding area than feasible, it went bankrupt. Nick purchased the failed business in 1964 and brought professionalism and caring.

Included in the purchase of the building was a large 10 acre property, which accommodates a cemetery on the east edge.  And now also a columbarium.

When Nick retired in the mid-1980s, his son Rick Wiebe took over the three funeral homes. Shortly after the funeral homes changed hands, Rick sold the Altona portion of the business to his cousin and working partner of many years, Terry Wiebe of Altona.  Wiebe Funeral Home Altona (which is independent of Wiebe Funeral Homes Ltd.)

Wiebe Funeral Homes have been in operation for over 75 years in Winkler, forty-nine years in Altona, and forty-six years in Morden. When the business began, it employed only Nick Wiebe, who worked without help for many years, until Rick joined his father in 1971.

In total, Nick worked as a funeral director for roughly forty years, from 1949 to 1989. Nick’s brother Hank worked almost exclusively in Altona from 1951 to 1974, until his early passing. Hank’s son Terry started his funeral service career early in 1974 in Altona, taking over after his father’s passing. 

Today the funeral home in Altona is partly owned and operated by Trevor Groening and the owners of Wiebe Funeral Homes Winkler and Morden (Jake Giesbrecht, Kiley Wilson and Joey Grenier).

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Winkler: 204-325-4201
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