Steinbach is a city located about 58 km southeast of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. According to the Canada 2011 Census, Steinbach has a population of 13,524, making it the third largest city in Manitoba and the largest community in the Eastman region. The city is bordered by the Rural Municipality of Hanover (north, west, and south), and the Rural Municipality of La Broquerie (east).
The name of "Steinbach" is translated from German as "Stony Brook" and was first settled by Mennonite peoples in 1874. The city continues to have a strong Mennonite and German influence today with over 50 percent of the residents claiming German heritage. Steinbach is found on the eastern edge of the Canadian Prairies, while Sandilands Provincial Forest is a short distance east of the city.
Steinbach is primarily an agricultural community, however as the regional economic hub of southeastern Manitoba, Steinbach has a trading area population of about 50,000 people. Thus the city also has many service and commercial businesses to serve the population. Steinbach is the fastest-growing city in Manitoba and third fastest census agglomeration in Canada. The city had a population growth of 22.2% between the 2006 and the 2011 census periods. This places it as the third largest city in Manitoba. The city has gained national recognition as an immigration hotbed of Canada and a model for immigration in the country. In 2012, for the first time ever MoneySense ranked Steinbach in their best places to live in Canada list where the community placed 66th out of 190 cities.
The areas of southeast Manitoba where Steinbach would later be founded, were originally lands of the nomadic Ojibway speaking Anishinabe people. They used their traditional lands for hunting, fishing, and trapping. The Anishinabe knew no borders at the time and their land ranged both north and south of the US-Canadian border, and both east and west of the Red River. On 3 August 1871 the Anishinabe people signed Treaty 1 and moved onto reserves such as the Brokenhead Indian Reserve and Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation Reserve. Shortly thereafter the government began surveying and staking out the land for the East Reserve (now the R.M. of Hanover).
Steinbach (meaning "Stony Brook" in German) was founded in 1874 by German-speaking Mennonite settlers from Russia. They spoke a Low German dialect known as Plautdietsch. Prior to settling in Steinbach the original Mennonites had first moved from the Netherlands, Prussia (Germany) and Switzerland to the Molotschna (or Milk River) colony in Imperial Russia. Within the settlement of Molotschna were a group of people following the Kleine Gemeinde known for practise of the New Testament teachings of non-resistance, community of sharing and the publication of the first inspirational books. This group was only a small minority in Molotschna but its farmers were known as the best in Moltschna. Mennonite immigrants were led to Canada by the promise from the Canadian Government of military exemption.
There were two groups that came from the Molotschna colony to settle in the East Reserve. They were both the Kleine Gemeinde, and the Bergthal who had come slightly earlier. Upon the arrival of the Kleine Gemeinde families who would eventually settle Steinbach in 1874, they found that much of better land had already been settled by some of the other Bergthaler and other Kleine Gemeinde families. The earlier settlers and families had come to realize the area suffered from excessive moisture and settled upon much of the higher lands and gravel ridges. So Steinbach's earliest Mennonite settlers chose to set upon the present site in the northeast corner of the East Reserve. The 20 homesteads were laid out on the northeast side of the present day Main Street along the Steinbach Creek.
The early settlers started a school in the first year, and in the following year of 1875 built a school and teacherage. A few years later, the first and original windmill in the town was built in 1877 by Abraham S. Friesen. Entrepreneurs took advantage of the business opportunities at the time and several small businesses sprung up. Many other important and large businesses sprung up as well, helping to establish Steinbach as a regional service centre for the area. After a period of 8 years the mayor in 1882, Gerhard Giesbrecht stated that the village had grown to 28 families with a population of 128.
The year of 1910 saw the line village design for the community end and the settlers obtained titles to their own open-field properties. In 1912 a Ford auto dealership was started, this was also the first Ford dealership in Western Canada.
Steinbach had grown to a population of 463 by 1915, and Steinbach continued to experience a time of steady growth in immigration. Many of the new immigrants continued to be Bergthaler Mennonites but Steinbach also saw new German and Lutheran settlers, as well as some British families who had previously settled in the Clearspring Settlement slightly to the north. Due to continued growth Steinbach was incorporated as a town on 31 December 1946. As the regional service centre for the area Steinbach saw the establishment and growth in manufacturing areas, and also trucking, retailing, and particularly in automobile sales. This led to the labeling of Steinbach as the "Automobile City". Over the next decades Steinbach continued to grow, eventually being incorporated as a city on 10 October 1997.
The Mennonite Heritage Village museum, located in the city, provides a glimpse at the life of these settlers through a reconstructed village and interpretive displays. Its Dutch windmill, which was rebuilt (with help from Dutch millwrights) after the 1972 replica was destroyed by arson in 2000, is a recognized symbol of the city.
Liquor Licence Referendums
Since the 1970s, Steinbach has had 7 separate referendums on allowing liquor sales within the confines of the city—Steinbach citizens had voted for prohibition on all liquor sales in 1950. In a local 2003 referendum, Steinbach residents narrowly voted to end liquor prohibition in the city, but passed only a dining room license, permitting alcohol to be served only with food. In 2007, the issue of serving alcohol in restaurant lounges was defeated by only 9 votes—although in the same referendum, voters agreed, by a slightly wider margin, to allow sports facilities like the Steinbach Fly-In Golf Course to serve alcohol. In February 2008, Steinbach Council voted in favor of opening a liquor store on Main St., as prohibition had already been lifted. Eventually, the first liquor mart in Steinbach opened in March 2009, on PTH 12 North, operated by the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission.
The most recent public vote was held in October 2011. In this referendum, voters agreed to accept, by a large margin, the following three licences: beverage rooms, cocktail lounges and private club licences.
Continued growth and further social controversy
As the city continued to grow, it was officially announced as Manitoba's third largest city with the release of the population data from the 2011 Canadian Census. The growth was attributed to immigration from such countries as Germany, Russia, and the Philippines. Steinbach gained national recognition from such newspapers as the Globe and Mail that labelled the city as an immigration hotbed of Canada and a model for immigration in the nation.
During March 2013 the city gained national recognition of religious and social issues around gay rights and religious freedom. The NDP had proposed Bill 18 which declared that all schools had to support student led groups. This led community members such as Southland Community Church and the Steinbach Christian High School to express concerns of having to support a Gay-straight alliance (GSA). The issue turned into a much larger debate between religious freedom and gay rights issue, with some outspoken members of the community against the bill, while others supported it. The event led to Steinbach City Council passing a resolution asking the provincial government to review the issue. In April, a young man was granted permission to put up posters supporting a GSA at the Steinbach Regional Seconday School(SRSS) public high school in the Hanover School Division. They had previously not given him the same privileges as other student groups.