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This article was published 17/3/2015 (773 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Dalnavert House museum, one of the finest surviving Victorian-era homes in Western Canada, and the residence of former Manitoba premier Hugh John Macdonald, will open its doors to the public again.
A controversial plan to rescue the historic home, shuttered since Labour Day of 2013 due to tumbling attendance, was approved Tuesday night by the Manitoba Historical Society.
The plan transfers management of the building — and eventually ownership — to a group representing Winnipeg’s museum and heritage sector called Friends of Dalnavert. Among the group’s members are Cindy Tugwell, Heritage Winnipeg executive director; Claudette Leclerc, CEO of the Manitoba Museum, and Adèle Hempel, a director there; and Vanessa Warne, a University of Manitoba professor of 19th-century literature.
"This is huge," said Tugwell, spokeswoman for Friends. "I’m thrilled we’re moving forward. And this is the most pivotal step."
A feasibility study for Friends, funded by the Winnipeg Foundation, crafted a five-year business plan for Dalnavert. Details were not available Tuesday but Friends members have publicly called it "Dalnavert 2.0," and said the museum will be run much differently than in the past.
But the deal was tough to swallow for the Manitoba Historical Society (MHS), the second oldest historical society in Canada.
Details of the agreement call for Friends to buy Dalnavert for $1 but also receive most of the MHS’s $970,000 trust fund, whose interest payments have helped pay Dalnavert’s annual costs. The MHS would be left with just $95,000 from the fund. The Winnipeg Foundation will also pay MHS a one-time endowment of $40,000.
The alternative to the deal was to sell off Dalnavert and its contents. An offer to repurpose Dalnavert into Candace House, a place that offers supports and services to victims of crime, was earlier withdrawn.
The MHS vote by elected members and past presidents "was not close," an MHS official said.
Tuesday night’s deal is also believed to have involved input from Kathleen Richardson, philanthropist and arts patron from Manitoba’s prominent Richardson family.
Richardson has been associated with Dalnavert since 1970, when she and Kathleen Campbell were charged with refurnishing the house, which had been purchased by the historical society and was undergoing restoration. They travelled across the country and even to England gathering Victorian furniture, including buying custom-made wallpaper in England. Richardson has been the museum’s anonymous benefactor ever since, providing annual grants of up to six figures in some years.
But her financial support recently became contingent on Dalnavert reaching a minimum attendance level. When the museum failed to achieve that threshold, she withheld support and the museum closed.
People running Dalnavert had become "like crack addicts," said a source in the heritage community, overly dependent on Richardson for financing. For example, the MHS does not do fundraising.
Richardson, who is getting up in years, feared for the museum’s fate when she is no longer around to provide for it, the source said. She wanted to see a sound business plan that could possibly keep the museum open in perpetuity.
While Richardson is not directly financing the newest venture, the fraternity of heritage people say Rick Frost, head of the Winnipeg Foundation, has her phone number literally on speed dial. The Richardson family are major financiers of the Winnipeg Foundation, and Richardson is a former board member.
Dalnavert House had become a burden for the MHS, taking a disproportionate amount of time and energy away from other projects. "It is probably a good idea for the Manitoba Historical Society to hand over responsibility for Dalnavert to another body, one dedicated to its preservation," said Harry Duckworth, MHS president.
Friends of Dalnavert did not return phone messages.
The MHS rescued Dalnavert House from demolition in 1969. The owner back then, Lakeview Development Ltd., wanted to build a highrise apartment complex on its site. MHS bought Dalnavert from Lakeview, and restored it.
Macdonald, the son of prime minister Sir John A. Macdonald, had the home built, and took occupancy in 1895. The home incorporates features of the High Victorian and Art Nouveau styles. The younger Macdonald died in 1929 and Lady Macdonald moved to Roslyn Court Apartments.
Friends hopes to reopen Dalnavert House for Doors Open Winnipeg on May 30-31, the weekend when many heritage buildings are open for public viewing.