Manitoba Historical Society
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MHS Centennial Business: Hartney Machine and Motor Limited

This family business was established by Edmund Isabey shortly after he came to Canada from France. He was one of a number of families recruited in Alsace-Lorraine, France by Father Jean Gaire, the Colonization agent and parish priest at Grand Clairiere. Perhaps his interest in transportation started when he still farmed at Grande Clairiere and had to walk the 25 miles to Oak Lake to buy groceries and carry them home on his back. According to a family story, on one such trip, struggling under a heavy bag of flour, he was sorely tempted to "borrow" a horse that was standing in a field on his way. However, his training in France as an apprentice gunsmith and mechanic had prepared him to work with the replacement for the horse, the horseless carriage. By 1899 he had moved to Hartney and was operating a machine shop at the rear of H. Brookbank's blacksmith shop. He installed an engine in a buggy and ran the vehicle before a Ford car appeared in town. Gradually his machine shop became a garage servicing automobiles. Edmund was known for his apt phrases. One story that sticks in his grandson John's mind is the time his grandfather, a big hockey fan, was hit with a puck. He always had a plug of chewing tobacco in his mouth, and once he recovered from the impact of the puck, his only remark was "G.D. I swallowed my cud!"

In 1896 Edmund had married Marie Aime, a relative of Father Jean Gaire, and they had four sons and one daughter: Narcisse, Henri, Paul, Constant and Reine. Three of Edmund's sons worked at the garage, but Henri and Constant both left and started their own businesses, Henri (Henry) in Hartney with a garage and service station and agency for Pontiac, McLaughlin, Buick, G.M.C. trucks, and Constant ("Con") a General Motors dealership in Sioux Lookout.

Narcisse made Hartney Machine and Motors his career. He was born in 1897 and, after completing his education at St. Jean Convent in Grande Clairiere and Hartney, he joined his father in the car-garage business.

One project that the two collaborated on before Edmund's death in 1935 was the fire engine for Hartney. It was completed in 1917 after Hartney had two major fires, and was retired in 1956. Narcisse became heavily involved in firefighting, joining the Hartney Fire Brigade and becoming fire chief, only retiring after 25 years of volunteer service. Narcisse and R. J. McKenzie worked together in the business and also in the volunteer fire brigade. Together they built a new fire engine which was ready for the town's 75th anniversary in 1957. Their sons also work at Hartney Machine and Motors and are here tonight.

In 1931 Hartney Machine and Motors started a Ford dealership, and are now in the fourth generation to be associated with Ford. In 1943-1944, Narcisse moved the enterprise to the old livery barn where it still operates. During the Second World War, Narcisse built generator stands and had a contract with Continental Auto Supply thanks to his good friend Nick Fry making 1,000 battery and generator stands that were sold up North.

Narcisse married Germaine Sylvestre in 1929 and their two sons, John and Jack joined the family business, John in 1949 and Jack in 1962 to run the body shop. Larry, John's son and the fourth generation, joined in 1981, the year before Narcisse died. The story of Hartney Machine and Motors is not just the story of a business, but of a family and a community.

An MHS Centennial Business Award was presented by Judith Hudson Beattie in January 2001.

See also:

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Hartney Machine Building (229 East Railway Street, Hartney, Municipality of Grassland)

Page revised: 17 June 2021

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