Need a six-foot-tall dinosaur, a scale model of your home or a logo for your new business? John Henry Creations is your one-stop shop.
John Henry Friesen, son Matthew and their staff created Santa’s castle for Polo Park in 2000. The huge creation’s turret is 37 feet tall. Visitors could walk inside to view three motorized displays that showed the elves’ kitchen, where cookies were being made and baked, a workshop where elves made toys, and a bedroom where other elves were asleep and snoring.
Matthew said the castle and its displays took about nine months to build.
"We were like ants in an anthill putting that together," John said, showing a photo of the assembled castle in Polo Park’s centre court.
"I’ll make anything you want," he said. "If you can’t buy it, we’ll make it."
John, 76, retired in 2006 when Matthew, 50, bought John’s share of the company. However, more work orders have recently brought him back to the company’s office and workshop at 3300 McGillivray Blvd. in the RM of Macdonald.
John started working when he was 14 with one of his uncles who ran a sign painting business. He said he earned $10 for his first sign.
He also learned to be a machinist, since that was his family’s business in Steinbach.
But rather than work as a machinist, he decided to explore his creative side. As well as sign painting, he hand-lettered company names on trucks at a local auto dealership.
His creative talent and eye for detail led him into designing scale models of houses for companies such as Inter-City Gas and Manitoba Hydro.
After moving his family from Steinbach to Costa Rica for two years, the Friesens located in Winnipeg when they returned to Canada in 1985. He contracted with the provincial government to do the calligraphy on official documents for the Queen’s Printer, such as certificates given to provincial judges.
While almost all such legal documents are now generated by computer, John still handwrites certificates for the Certified Management Accountants of Canada.
Matthew has followed in his father’s footsteps as he’s called upon to paint and touch-up the 23-carat gold lettering on wooden doors in the Manitoba Legislative Building.
He also has a contract with the Winnipeg Goldeyes and has designed and made commemorative signs for the club as well as painted the business signs within Shaw Park.
Matthew said most of their business comes from word-of-mouth referrals.
"A lot of people find out about us from a customer," he said.
The variety of job requests the Friesens get helps to keep things interesting. Matthew said one of his daughters is showing signs of having artistic talent, so the family business might be passed on to a third generation.