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Dalnavert's backers upbeat

Leave meeting confident in museum's future

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Dalnavert House Museum

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A meeting Saturday over the fate of Dalnavert ended with renewed optimism for supporters who want the historic house reopened as a museum.

"Everybody left feeling really good that we accomplished something. Ten years from now when we look back, this will be like the Fort Garry (Hotel)... It'll be one of those iconic buildings we can't imagine the city being without," Heritage Winnipeg executive director Cindy Tugwell said after the meeting wrapped up at the house on Carlton Street.

The meeting was called by members of the Manitoba Historical Society, which owns Dalnavert.

The house is recognized by the province and Parks Canada as a historic site, and its Grade 1 designation from the city as historic means the integrity of the house must remain intact.

Dalnavert is the restored 1895 home of Hugh John Macdonald, son of Canada's first prime minister, John A. Macdonald. The younger Macdonald was twice elected as a Conservative MP and briefly was the eighth premier of Manitoba.

The Manitoba Historical Society issued no formal statement to signal its intention to reopen the site as a museum.

That was in part because the president of the society, James Kostuchuk, emailed his resignation to 30 members Friday evening, Tugwell said.

In a three-paragraph letter widely circulated Saturday, Kostuchuk announced he opposed the meeting but wished the society well in its work with the Friends of Dalnavert, a group of heritage and historical organizations that has pushed for months to reopen the museum.

Kostuchuk also offered to volunteer for future projects and forwarded names of two candidates for the executive council and a new president to replace him. The society is expected to hold an annual general meeting some time in June to elect a new president and executive council.

Kostuchuk was widely criticized for his management of the Dalnavert closure, and his letter of resignation cited stress from the opposition he faced.

Kostuchuk did not respond to an email request for comment late Saturday.

Dalnavert had been run as a museum for years, but it was quietly closed last fall due to falling revenue and visitor numbers, triggering a heated public debate over its future as a museum.

This spring, the executive council, led by Kostuchuk, announced a partnership to reopen the site for the proposed Candace House.

Candace House is the dream of Wilma Derksen, whose daughter, Candace, was murdered in 1984. The proposed facility would have served as an oasis for crime victims -- a location near the Law Courts building for victims of crime to rest during court trials.

Derksen pulled out of the proposal, saying in an interview Friday she had been unaware of the depth of public concern over the society's management of Dalnavert and the difference of opinion over its future.

Tugwell, whose group was among the loose collection of heritage and historic organizations brought together under the Friends banner, said the meeting Saturday lasted most of the afternoon.

The meeting was chaired by a society member who is also a lawyer, and a formal motion was passed to work with the Friends of Dalnavert on a proposal to reopen the museum, Tugwell said.

"There were about 70 people. It was a great turnout and it was amicable. Everybody there genuinely wants to see the museum open," Tugwell said.

An official statement on how the society will work with the Friends of Dalnavert to revive the museum is expected to be issued, probably after the society elects a new president and council.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 25, 2014 A3

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