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Interpretive tours to end at Riel House
Questions continue to swirl about the future of Riel House following a decision by Parks Canada to reduce programing at the national historic site.
Interpretive services at Riel House, the wood-frame house on River Road in St. Vital where Louis Riel lay in state after he was hanged, will be replaced by self-guided tours after this summer.
As part of recent federal budget cuts, Parks Canada will no longer help fund the St. Boniface Historical Society program that permits a small group of interpreters dressed in historical costumes to greet visitors at Riel House for four months each year.
"We have been informed by Parks Canada… that they will not be able to renew their contract with us next year," said Michel Lagacé, president of St. Boniface Historical Society.
"What they’re doing is entirely legitimate. They’ve always had to decide year by year whether to renew the contract."
Lagacé, who said the program has been in place at Riel House since 1980, pegged the cost at $56,000 this year. He said that pays for a director and four interpreters to operate the site between the May and September long weekends.
There were initial fears that Riel House would be shut down after news broke about the cancelled contract. Parks Canada insists that it will continue to maintain the house and will offer self-guided tours next season.
Coun. Brian Mayes (St. Vital) was among those concerned about a possible closure but he said he and Coun. Dan Vandal (St. Boniface) have received assurances from St. Boniface Tory MP Shelly Glover that will not be the case.
"My goal was to see it to stay open with some level of staffing. If that’s the case, then I think that that’s positive," he said.
The idea of self-guided tours, however, has drawn criticism.
Terry Borys, superintendent of Louis Riel School Division, said many students have benefitted from school tours of the historic site over the years. He said taking away the interpretive element will make the tours less educational.
"The study of Louis Riel and the study of the history of Manitoba is very, very important to us in the Louis Riel School Division," he said.
"I think that the interpretive type of thing that we have at Riel House, and also at Fort Garry for that matter, is what makes it come alive for younger children."
Denis Ferré, superintendent of Division scolaire franco-manitobaine, said students from the francophone school division also tour Riel House regularly. He denounced any programming cuts that would "bite into education" about one of important figures in Manitoban and Canadian history.
Tom Kyman, a senior Manitoba official with Parks Canada, said there are talks planned with the St. Boniface Historical Society about the possibility of a different operating model for Riel House.
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