Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Dalnavert Museum's glimmer of hope

Historic site would be kept open to public

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Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press archives

In this 2010 photo, Helga Jakobson's Shadow Play is displayed at Dalnavert Museum as part of Phantasmagoria, a spooky, ghostly show with various artist exhibits showcased in different rooms throughout the house.

Some elder statesmen of Winnipeg's heritage movement are mounting a quiet rescue mission to save the Dalnavert Museum.

The group of eight past-presidents of the Manitoba Historical Society, the museum's owner, say they want to keep the national historic site as a public museum. They have a hearing next week to make their case before a meeting of the society's president and the board.

"They've closed the museum, which means it's not functioning, and we know it's a long-term obligation (of the society) to run the museum. We have questions on how that's being done and we have suggestions on how to help," past-president David McDowell said.

"It's an ongoing saga. We have our ideas and we'll see how we're received," he said.

McDowell was selected as the spokesman for the group, whose tenures at the historical society span decades, beginning with McDowell's term during the 1970s.

The downtown Dalnavert Museum, located at 61 Carlton St., is one of Winnipeg's finest examples of Queen Anne revival architecture. It was closed after Labour Day and coverage tied the closure to poor attendance, falling revenues and fundraising challenges.

An attached events centre, with a meeting room, office space and gift shop has remained open.

Dalnavert is the restored 1895 home of Hugh John Macdonald, son of Canada's first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. He was twice elected as a Conservative MP and was briefly the minister of the interior in 1896.

Parks Canada, the federal authority for national historic sites, said in an email statement the designation means the integrity of the house must remain intact. Modifications to the structure can be made but there are limits.

"If the building is destroyed or if modifications are made to the extent that the integrity of the site is compromised, the designation may be revoked," the email said. In addition to closing the museum, the historical society raised the possibility of a future sale of Dalnavert.

"The major feeling was it should not be sold but we're also realistic enough to know we have to look at all the options, " McDowell said.

McDowell is a mainstay of Winnipeg's heritage movement, and is known for his work in saving the city's historic architecture. He was president of the Manitoba Historical Society at the height of the museum's last resurrection 40 years ago and led marches on city hall that helped push through the city bylaw protecting heritage buildings.

More recently, he chaired Heritage Winnipeg for two terms and was Manitoba's governor of the Heritage Canada Foundation from 1997 to 2003.

The society's current president said coverage of Dalnavert's closing has increased interest in the museum's future.

"One of the advantages of the media is we've had a lot of offers, a lot of suggestions and that will give us material to discuss. We'll have the winter to discuss it and we don't have to act in haste," James Kostuchuk said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 18, 2013 B4

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