Hans Hoffmann: A Mechanical Genius
This article was originally written and submitted as part of a Canada 150 Project, the Innovation Storybook, to crowdsource stories of Canadian innovation with partners across Canada. The content has since been migrated to Ingenium’s Channel, a digital hub featuring curated content related to science, technology and innovation.
A small community on the western edge of the Lower Fraser Valley is home to the Hoffmann & Son shop building. Now part of the Pitt Meadows Museum the building, the site it sits on and its contents belonged to the Hoffmann family before it was donated to the Museum in 1999. At this site Hans Hoffmann plied his trade for more than 65 years as a machinist, an inventor and a stationary engine enthusiast. Born in 1912 on a farm in Manitoba, Hans would grow up to be anything but a farmer. His fascination with everything mechanical began in childhood eventually taking him to the Trapp School in New Westminster and then to Pitt Meadows where his skill with all things mechanical made it only a matter of time before the Hoffmann and Son sign was proudly placed on Harris Road. Hans kept farmers in business. One farmer summed it up as “… I didn’t have a lot of money, I can’t tell you how many times Hans Hoffmann repaired something, made something for me that allowed me to go on and farm.” Not only was Hans a mechanical genius, he was also, in his own quiet way, a community booster. He established the town’s fire department in 1942, built the first fire truck, and ran the department out of his business. By the late 1940’s Hans’ inventive mind led him in to the ditching business when he built a series of trenching machines that included two on rubber for hard soils and one on tracks, the “Pitt Polder Special”, for the boggy areas of north Pitt Meadows. “The machines were truly marvelous pieces of equipment… each of the three machines was an improvement over the older one” (G. Hussmann). Hans worked all over the Lower Mainland with these machines including trenching to run electrical cables at the side of the runway at Vancouver Airport in the early 1950’s. In his retirement Hans collected old engines, restoring hundreds over the years. “People would come in and have junk that nobody else would want to touch…he’d get it going again. It was a challenge to him…, he was an absolute genius…” (S. Hoogendorn). In 1991c. Hans was profiled in the Maple Ridge News by Simone Ponne. A shy man, Hans said little and let her photographs tell the story. His one comment: “[I am] likely the only one that still took the time to make parts for old, odd, interesting engines”, and to do it with “old, odd, interesting equipment”. In 1998 he was Pitt Meadows’ Citizen of the Year. 18 months later Hans would complete the donation to the Museum Society, and less than a month later he passed away. In June 2001 the building opened as part of the Pitt Meadows Museum and together with the residual of the Hoffmann’s many acres of property, the site is now part of a block of park land run in a partnership between the Museum and the City of Pitt Meadows. For more information about Hans Hoffmann visit “One Man’s Passion: Hans Hoffmann’s Engines” at the Virtual Museum,Community Memories website. The Pitt Meadows Museum is open year round. Visit us on Facebook or in person at 12294 Harris Road.