January 21, 2020

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Riel House closing down

Historic home falls victim to budget cuts

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/6/2012 (2780 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press
Louis Riel House

Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press Louis Riel House

Historic Riel House, where Louis Riel lay in state after he was hanged, is closing its doors.

The national historic site, located in south St. Vital, will cease all interpretive services and likely warehouse its historic artifacts after this summer.

As part of federal budget cuts, Parks Canada has decided to terminate its contract with the St. Boniface Historical Society, which hires and trains the four or five costumed interpreters who kept the 131-year-old house open between May and August for school tours, summer tourists and events.

After September, only self-guided tours around the small site will be available.

"It's really a slap in the face, basically," said Robert Allard, vice-president of L'Union nationale métisse Saint-Joseph, the oldest Métis organization in Canada.

In addition to the loss of access to a historic home belonging to Manitoba's founding family, St. Boniface Historical Society president Michel Lagacé said he's got a practical worry. Padlocking the wooden house and leaving it empty could attract vandals and firebugs, he said.

The closure is part of $29 million in budget cuts to hit Parks Canada recently.

Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press
Lloyd McCabe, from Brandon, visits Riel House, a national historic site that will soon suffer from budget cuts.

Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press Lloyd McCabe, from Brandon, visits Riel House, a national historic site that will soon suffer from budget cuts.

More than a third of the 70 Parks Canada jobs in Winnipeg are being eliminated, including technical and scientific staff. Another 18 jobs will disappear in other parts of the province.

Outside of July and August, visitor-centre hours at parks and historic sites will be cut or eliminated except on weekends.

Lower Fort Garry, for example, will limit visitor services on weekdays starting in September. The characters who bring the site to life — the blacksmiths, fur traders and wool spinners — will be on hand on weekends.

Also in September, Manitoba's most popular national park, Riding Mountain, will cut back visitor-centre hours to five days a week from seven, and crews will no longer groom the park's expansive ski-trail system nor maintain the skating rink and skating trail.

Manitoba field unit superintendent Marilyn Peckett said budget cuts have forced Parks Canada to focus resources on sites and periods with peak demand. Sites with relatively few visitors are seeing cuts to programming.

Riel House normally gets 4,000 to 5,000 visitors a year. It was double that before Parks Canada began charging a small fee for entry three years ago, which also helped improve programming.

More than 30 historic sites across Canada are moving to self-guided tours without full-time interpretive staff.

Peckett said Parks Canada will continue to maintain Riel House and the site.

"We're not walking away from the site at all," she said Sunday evening. "It is one of our nation's treasures."

And she held out hope some other funding solution involving local historic or Métis groups could be found.

In the coming weeks, Parks Canada will begin working with those groups to see if that's possible, Peckett said.

On Sunday, the house was closed to visitors — it won't open on weekends this season until July. But Bev and Lloyd McCabe, in town from Brandon for the weekend, stopped by and got a sneak peek inside while a staff member opened the house up for a crew of documentary filmmakers.

"That's unfortunate," Lloyd McCabe said when told Riel House would likely close at the end of the summer.

"It's an important part of our history," Bev added.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

RIEL HOUSE

— Located at 330 River Rd., just south of Bishop Grandin Boulevard.

— Built in 1881 for Louis Riel's mother, Julie Lagimodière. The Riel family lived in the house until the late 1960s.— At the time the house was built, Louis Riel was in exile in Montana, but occasionally snuck home, once to attend his sister's wedding at the house.

— Riel's body lay in state for two days in the living room in December 1885 after he was hanged in Regina.

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