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Still hope for Dalnavert: friends

Group opposes turning former museum into victims' centre

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Dalnavert Museum closed last September. A group wants to reopen it as a support and education centre for victims of crime.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

Dalnavert Museum closed last September. A group wants to reopen it as a support and education centre for victims of crime. Photo Store

Dalnavert Museum should not become a respite centre for victims of crime, says a heritage coalition.

The Friends of Dalnavert say they can recruit the experts needed to keep Dalnavert a viable attraction rather than see its owner, the Manitoba Historical Society, turn over the keys to 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 includes Heritage Winnipeg and the Manitoba Association of Museums.

"This has nothing to do with Candace House," Heritage Winnipeg executive director Cindy Tugwell said Wednesday. "Candace House is fabulous."

Tugwell and Manitoba Association of Museums executive director Monique Brandt said the issue has more to do with why the historical society closed the downtown museum last September. The society blamed bad attendance, falling revenues and fundraising challenges.

"The immediate reaction was a feeling of betrayal," Tugwell said. "Normally, a gem like this, if they were in trouble, would have reached out to the community and the stakeholders would have come forward to help them. That didn't happen. It was closed."

The recent decision by the society to explore a partnership with Candace House, without exploring other options, compounded those feelings, Tugwell said.

"If you don't reach out to the community and you don't get the right expertise on board, any project could be in jeopardy," Tugwell said. "The expertise is what we believe we bring to the table and the passion. The society has made it clear, without letting the public know that there is a proposal that could save the museum, speaks volumes about the lack of passion that the MHS has to not want to save it."

Candace House is named after Candace Derksen, who was abducted and murdered in 1984. Her mother, Wilma Derksen, has said she would like to work with the society to repurpose the mansion as a support and education centre.

Derksen said Wednesday she was unaware of the desire by the Friends of Dalnavert to the keep the museum intact.

"If the board should withdraw their offer, we would have no problem moving on," Derksen said. "We don't want to create a problem. We thought we were part of a solution."

Brandt said the group wants approval from the historical society to put together a business plan to keep the museum open.

"It's a valuable resource, and I believe it can be viable," Brandt said. "It's not a quick fix, but with fundraising and diversified earned revenue, it should be able to operate and stand on its own."

James Kostuchuk, chairman of the historical society, said the museum concept at Dalnavert is not dead with the possible partnership with Candace House.

"There could be a museum in the home, but it would change form," he said. Kostuchuk said the society has only agreed to explore a partnership with Candace House and a final decision either way is months away.

"The idea that this is a done deal isn't necessarily so," he said. "We have to negotiate through all the ideas."

Kostuchuk said the society is open to all ideas about the future of Dalnavert.

"It is a contentious issue, and you want to try to be as sensitive as you can to the needs of people in the community, but there is a lot of research to show the kind of reuse we're talking about with Dalnavert is in keeping proper preservation strategies," he said.

Brandt and Tugwell said the society isn't doing its homework as stewards of the province's history.

"We believe museums are not stale -- it's the way they need to be managed," Tugwell said. "The public needs to know that the historical society turned down an offer to save it. This is a museum that closed because they said museums aren't viable anymore as opposed to saying it's been mismanaged, we haven't run it properly and we lack the expertise."

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Do you agree with turning Dalnavert into Candace House in order to save the historic building? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 24, 2014 B1

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