Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Celebration order of day at Riel House

Pending cuts fail to dampen annual event

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While staff and guests of Riel House's Métis Harvest Celebration toasted the end of summer with a cob of corn Sunday, the future of the historic site's educational programming continued to hang in the balance.

"From what I understand, the house will remain open; there just won't be people in costume with interpretive programs," said director Monique Olivier, as she stood outside Riel House wearing a period dress.

"As an interpreter, my job security's at risk, for one. But also I personally feel like it's one of the best ways to learn about history and especially with a history that can be quite fraught with controversy. It's good to be able to have an intelligent conversation with knowledgeable staff about Riel instead of just offering black-and-white facts," Olivier said.

Parks Canada announced in June it would not renew its contract with the St. Boniface Historical Society to offer interpretive services at the Winnipeg historic site.

Olivier said she heard Parks Canada's latest plan is to offer audio guides.

But, she said, the grim news didn't deter the turnout, with Sunday's festivities drawing in some of the biggest crowds she'd seen at the festival.

Olivier estimated she already had about 150 people taking in the celebrations by mid-afternoon.

"It's a really joyful time out here. People are having fun and learning and eating good food. It's a nice celebration," Olivier said.

The harvest celebration is meant to mark the end of summer and offers guests a corn roast, live music and games.

Olivier said she has tried to keep enhancing the event, introducing costumed actors a few years ago to add historical perspective to the event.

Rebecca Dyck started working as a historic interpreter at Riel House this June and said she's been told she likely won't have a job next summer.

"We've had a lot of kids coming through asking 'Who's going to answer all my questions if it's just on a recording?' Kids like the interaction and that's a good way for them to learn," Dyck said while on a break from guiding guests through the home.

This year, the festival added a square dance and hosted Winnipeg's Canadian Corps of Voyageurs. Members of that group also dressed up in costume and offered guests a history brush-up on the War of 1812.

Julie and Angela Chartrand have been coming to the festival for years. They said it helps them connect with their Métis heritage.

"It's important to come, to learn more what we can about our roots. Riel was such an interesting man. And the corn is sure good," Julie Chartrand said between bites of her cob.

Phyllis Jivan, who also attends the festival regularly, worries cutting interpretive programming will hinder the experience for visitors of the house.

"Every time I come here, I learn something new by interacting with the staff. Kids need these services and so do I," Jivan said.

Parks Canada's contract with the St. Boniface Historical Society is set to expire next month. Olivier said she will likely hear in the coming weeks whether or not funding for educational programming will officially be cut.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 27, 2012 B3

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