Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Riel House reprieve sought

Manitoba politicians seek to keep site open

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MANITOBA'S politicians are begging Ottawa to reconsider a decision to close the historic Riel House.

Winnipeg city councillors said the humble wood-frame house in St. Vital is a critical part of the province's history, while Manitoba's francophone senator said closing Riel House will save Ottawa only a pittance while eroding Métis heritage in the province.

Due to budget cuts, Parks Canada will no longer help fund the St. Boniface Historical Society program that hires, trains and co-ordinates a small group of interpreters who don historical costumes and keep Riel House open to visitors four months a year.

The historical society, one of Manitoba's most senior Parks Canada officials and staff at Riel House all say the funding cut means the house will close its doors in September, its artifacts will be sent elsewhere and its programming will be cancelled.

Parks Canada has said it must focus resources on sites and periods with peak demand.

Parks Canada will still maintain the house and offer self-guided tours of the property.

Robert Allard, vice-president of L'Union nationale métisse Saint-Joseph, Manitoba's oldest Métis organization, has called the decision "a slap in the face."

St. Boniface Tory MP Shelly Glover, who represents the riding and is Métis, could not be reached for comment Monday.

But other Manitoba politicians condemned the decision to padlock the home where Louis Riel lay in state following his hanging in 1885.

Liberal Sen. Maria Chaput said Monday she hopes the decision isn't an attack on francophone heritage so much as poor planning.

"The minister has been asked to cut and maybe when they do it, they don't take the impact on francophone heritage into consideration," she said.

Chaput said Riel House fundraises to leverage cash from other sources, but it cannot do that without the small amount of help from Ottawa each year.

"It's $56,000 a year," Chaput said. "It is such a small thing."

St. Boniface Coun. Dan Vandal said Monday he was angry about the decision, and St. Vital Coun. Brian Mayes drafted a motion for Monday night's community committee meeting calling on Winnipeggers to write and call their MPs. The motion passed.

"It's a quiet little museum, a historical landmark, but it's still of historical significance," he said. "It's important to a lot of people. It's important to history."

Greg Thomas, a former archaeologist at Parks Canada, said the government may have thought it could get away with some of the cuts it's making to Parks Canada because many of the areas don't have advocates to plead their case to the public.

"They are playing with fire," he said. "It's a symbol for the Métis in Manitoba."

 

-- with files from Jen Skerritt

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 12, 2012 A3

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