Dan Lett misses the most important point in his column on the Dalnavert controversy (Dalnavert-Candace House partnership sound, April 30).
Dalnavert is a National Historic Site, chosen for designation in 1990 by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. Each province has one representative on this board, and board members are not allowed to advocate for proposals from their own province. So the decisions are made by members who impose nationwide standards.
Dalnavert was named a National Historic Site because it is an unusually fine example of the elegant architecture of its time (Queen Anne Revival), built for a man with enough money to include the most up-to-date features the building industry could supply. So we have striking decorations inside and out, many of them original, and the house is complete with authentic plumbing and heating arrangements of the time.
As Dan Lett says, there are plenty of old houses in Winnipeg, some of them falling apart and others extensively renovated inside so they can be reused. But there is nothing else quite like Dalnavert in Western Canada.
Given this special status, the Manitoba Historical Society has a responsibility to maintain Dalnavert in the form that won it recognition in the first place. The proposed sale to Candace House, which would renovate the interior extensively to make it useful to that organization, would degrade the heritage value of the house, no matter how much sensitivity was brought to bear. This is not to blame them. They do need a big house near the Law Courts, but they don't need Dalnavert.
The grassroots movement called the Friends of Dalnavert has the preservation of the house as its only purpose. Those who made the proposal, when it became clear no one else was coming forward, include some of the most senior heritage experts in the city. Work is underway to choose a board of directors and achieve incorporation. Fundraising has begun, with several donors and considerable money already pledged.
It is far from clear that the Manitoba Historical Society, as a whole, is in favour of the Candace House proposal. At the governing council meeting the vote for Candace House was by the narrowest of margins.
Nevertheless, it is probably a good idea for the Manitoba Historical Society to hand over responsibility for Dalnavert to another body, one dedicated to its preservation. The society has many responsibilities, and the membership of the executive and the council change regularly.
This year, Dalnavert was low on their list. But Dalnavert is not a commercial business that can be closed if it isn't doing well enough. It is a unique part of Canada's heritage. If there's a credible organization that's willing to take over the responsibility for it, as the society itself did almost 40 years ago, they should be given their chance.
Past president, Manitoba Historical Society