Mar 8, 2021

Katherine Friesen Recognized As Manitoba 150 Trailblazer

Young Katherine and Manitoba Trailblazers Logo

Earlier this year, the Nellie McClung Foundation introduced the Manitoba 150 Women Trailblazer Awards to salute the contributions that Manitoba women have made to social justice, arts, sports, politics, community activities and promoting democracy while developing this great province. The awards coincided with the Province of Manitoba’s 150th celebrations. Qualico co-founder, and sole-owner of Rancho Realty, Katherine Friesen was recognized as one of those trailblazers. The Awards honour Nellie McClung’s vision by celebrating the spirit of her life’s work being advanced by women leaders of today and throughout Manitoba’s history.

As we recognize International Women’s Day 2021’s theme of ‘Choose to Challenge,’ it seems fitting for all Qualico employees to learn more about a woman who challenged the status quo in Manitoba. In the 1950s and 60s, Katherine Friesen chose to challenge, without a doubt, in terms of a woman owning her own business, pioneering ways of selling real estate in Manitoba and successfully growing her business within a male-dominated industry.

“We are extremely proud and honoured for Katherine Friesen to be recognized with a Manitoba 150 Women Trailblazer award alongside such a distinguished group of Manitoba women,” said Kevin Van, President & CEO. “Katherine loved giving back to the community. This award is a wonderful recognition of the lasting impact Katherine made on our community. Her legacy at Qualico is one of the many reasons we recognize Gender Equality as one of our areas of focus for Corporate Responsibility. We understand that while there has been progress, women of all ages in Canada and the US face systemic and historical obstacles related to gender equality across many areas in their personal and professional lives. Qualico supports organizations that encourage leadership skills, entrepreneurialism, athletics, and career advancement of women, particularly in sectors of our industry.”

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Below are excerpts from the Manitoba 150 Women Trailblazer submission that earned Katherine the recognition that she and all other women trailblazers deserve.

Katherine married David Friesen

Katherine Friesen (Loewen), was an immigrant, student, teacher, business woman, interior decorator, philanthropist and much more. She was a “trailblazer”, bringing women into the male-dominated business world. Katherine’s legacy to Manitoba is experienced today through a strong Mennonite community, educational centres and healthcare facilities. Her footprint left on the real estate world in Winnipeg is remarkable. Her incredible story is matched by that of only her incredible grace and modesty. Her story is one that must be told. 

She was born in Halbstadt, Southern Russia on August 12, 1918. It was during the Russian Revolution and her parents escaped with their two children through the Mennonite underground. They walked to Germany and then were given passage to Canada.

Katherine’s father believed in education, and thus Katherine was an excellent student, graduating from Wesley Hall (now the University of Winnipeg Collegiate). She then took her first year at United College (now the University of Winnipeg), and later attended Normal School (now the Canadian Mennonite University). She graduated in 1936 from Teacher’s College.

New Display Home article 1966

After she graduated, Katherine taught first in the rural town of Homewood for one year, then in Balmoral, Manitoba. Her school was a one-room schoolhouse with 25 children, in grades 1 to 8. She was considered a modern woman and left her mark on many of her students.

Katherine spearheaded many things in her life, including being the first woman in her church to get her driver’s license, and using her own teaching money to purchase her family’s first home.

Katherine wanted her community church, First Mennonite Church on Notre Dame Ave. in Winnipeg to be a safe place for its congregation. There was a building next to the church that she and David purchased, and thus there was a meeting place and parking lot. She was very committed to preserving and serving the Mennonite community. One example of this is Katherine founding the Mennonite Elementary School (the first Mennonite elementary school in Winnipeg.

Katherine was always there for families that needed help. If they had arrived in Canada, she would help them find a place to live, get a job, and feed and clothe their families until they could manage on their own.

Since she was the only female among her peers to have a driver’s license, every Christmas she would put together a team and deliver Christmas hampers to families in need.

Katherine married David Friesen, a divorce lawyer, in 1943. There weren’t many divorces in those days, so the payment he received from clients was in the form of eggs, chicken, and pies.

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Katherine wanted to have a family and be able to afford to purchase their first home. She had a plan. There was a great need for housing after the war, so she decided her husband would build homes. She took her savings and borrowed from her father so that David could buy seven lots in River Heights and build seven homes. Her husband planned and built seven homes and Katherine sold them.

Business Card & Show Home Poster

This was the beginning of a great partnership with her husband. Katherine had a strong business sense and soon started her own business in 1957, Rancho Realty, the sales arm for selling the new homes. It was a rare thing back in those days to have a woman registering and owning her own business. Katherine was one of the first women in Manitoba to be a licensed real estate broker. She later earned her FRI Designation - a standard of excellence and accomplishment in the real estate industry.

Katherine was responsible for all aspects of running Rancho Realty. She had entered a male-dominated industry and was very successful.

With a passion for home sales and décor, Katherine had completed an interior design course at the University of Manitoba. She would frequently take trips to Fargo and Minneapolis to bring the leading home design trends back to Manitoba to elevate what was offered to her customers. She knew what female buyers and decision-makers were looking for in a home, which led to her being one of the first to stage a showhome with furniture in Manitoba. This steered the real estate game in Winnipeg, with Katherine at the forefront.

Today, Rancho Realty has operations across Western Canada with over 1,900 residential rental apartments, over 40,000 condominium units and 430,000 sq. ft. of commercial space.

Katherine never shied away from challenges as a woman in a man’s world and worked hard to make positive and forward-thinking impacts in Manitoba’s real estate industry, shaping Rancho Realty Ltd. into the successful business it is today. Her philanthropic impact and dedication to her Mennonite roots can also still be felt today in Manitoba and beyond.


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