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Heritage community seeks to save Dalnavert

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Dalnavert's friends are willing to help keep the national historic site open as a portal into the past.

A story in the Free Press reporting Dalnavert Museum, one of Winnipeg's finest examples of Queen Anne Revival architecture, was quietly closed two months ago ran through the city's heritage community like a dose of old-fashioned salts.

Heritage Winnipeg's executive director, Cindy Tugwell, said it wasn't known the Manitoba Historical Society was grappling with the potential closure of its crown jewel.

"We'd understand, the heritage community at large, if they'd come to us and say we have an issue... There are always solutions to a problem ... and if (it turns out) there aren't, at least we'd know we tried," Tugwell said. "We'd welcome the chance to help if we're asked."

Dalnavert is the restored 1895 home of Hugh John Macdonald, son of Canada's first prime minister, John A. Macdonald. During his career, the younger Macdonald was premier of Manitoba and later police magistrate for Winnipeg.

Heritage Winnipeg works with the City of Winnipeg, the Province of Manitoba and the Heritage Canada Foundation to promote a heritage conservation area in Winnipeg. Dalnavert's owners are supposed to sit on the Heritage Winnipeg board but withdrew a couple of years ago, which complicates communications with them.

"I'd like Winnipeggers to think this is not a fait accompli," Tugwell said.

The historical society, which owns the property, closed the doors to the public after Labour Day, timed with the end of the tourist season and the start of the curator's maternity leave.

Late last week, volunteers stepped forward with concerns about the future of the heritage property and said they didn't expect to see it open again.

City Coun. Jenny Gerbasi, whose ward (Fort Rouge East Fort Garry) includes the property, said she was "quite shocked" and expressed concern the decision was made without public notice.

The city contributes an annual grant of about $20,000 to the Manitoba Historical Society.

"I see it as something for all Winnipeggers and visitors. I would hope something could be done to keep it; it's an irreplaceable asset in our city," Gerbasi said.

"The whole thing is unfortunate. It's a private property and this group... can do what they wish. I just hope there's some way to have a happier outcome."

Later this week, several past presidents of the society are expected to meet in an emergency session over Dalnavert's future, the Free Press has learned.

But whether that meeting was called by the society is an open question.

Society president James Kostuchuk said the only meeting he's aware of is later this month, of the society's board.

Kostuchuk said the society didn't reach out to groups such as Heritage Winnipeg because they want a permanent solution without scrambling for money every year, against a backdrop of falling attendance and spiralling upkeep. Attendance dropped by half in a single decade, he said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 5, 2013 A2


Updated on Tuesday, November 5, 2013 at 7:01 AM CST: Fixes typo.

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