Changing Dalnavert Museum to accommodate a respite centre for victims of crime will be no walk in the park, the chairwoman of the city's historical buildings committee says.
Coun. Jenny Gerbasi said because of Dalnavert's Grade 1 heritage designation, the highest classification for a historic site, any proposed changes to the building will be put under the microscope.
"It's one of the most highly rated historic buildings we have," Gerbasi said Monday.
"There would have to be approval for any changes, and those just aren't something that's automatically given."
Gerbasi's comments come after the Manitoba Historical Society, Dalnavert's owners, agreed to a special meeting May 25 to hear concerns raised by heritage advocates over a recent decision by the society to explore a partnership with Candace House, a centre for victims of crime who have to attend or testify at the Law Courts Building or in provincial court.
The Friends of Dalnavert, which includes Heritage Winnipeg and the Manitoba Association of Museums, wants to submit a business plan to reopen the museum at 61 Carlton St. The historical society closed the downtown museum last September citing poor attendance, falling revenues and fundraising challenges.
Gerbasi said even without knowing what Candace House has planned for Dalnavert, it's unlikely at this point the city would grant approvals.
"It certainly should be in question whether the city would allow them to significantly alter it," she said.
Dalnavert is also recognized by the province and Parks Canada as a historic site, and its Grade 1 designation 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.
Candace House would be named for Candace Derksen, who was murdered in 1984. Her mother, Wilma Derksen, has said she would like to work with the society to repurpose part of the mansion as a support and education centre. The rest of the building would be maintained as a museum.
"Candace is a really great cause," Gerbasi said. "We shouldn't be put in a position of choosing a cause like Candace House and a museum. If Candace House needs office space, this is a museum. When you hear of significant alterations, you have to ask how this is possible without diminishing the heritage value significantly. That's a big concern to a lot of people."
Derksen has said she was unaware of the desire by the Friends of Dalnavert to the keep the museum intact and would have no problem seeking an alternative location.
Heritage Winnipeg executive director Cindy Tugwell said her organization is currently identifying other potential sites for Candace House.