Step back in time at museum
Dalnavert serves up slice of local history
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/08/2010 (4390 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Each week, Calla Lofvendahl and Mary Steinhoff take a step back in time and experience Winnipeg in the late 1800s.
The era lacks the televisions, computers and other gadgets we have become accustomed to, but the women find entertainment in stories about prominent local figures and the simpler way of life back then. Volunteers at Dalnavert Museum excitedly recount these stories to thousands of visitors who tour the downtown museum each year.
The museum built in 1895 was once the home of Sir Hugh John Macdonald, a former Manitoba premier and son of Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. Sparing no extravagance, the Victorian home cost $10,500 to build — a far cry from the $1,000 price tag on an average Winnipeg home at that time. One of only 16 Winnipeg homes with electricity back then, it featured state-of-the-art technology, including central heat, hot running water, an intercom and paging system and flushable toilets.
Macdonald’s family lived there until his death in 1929. The Manitoba Historical Society restored the home and opened it as a museum in 1974.
Lofvendahl said she fell in love with the house and its history the moment she first stepped through its doors.
"When I’m in the house I feel part of the house," said the St. Boniface resident, noting each room is unique. "Other museums are fine, but to have a home where you can bring people and step back in time, I think that’s really important. I think it’s very important to connect with the past."
Conducting tours while dressed in period costume, she loves meeting visitors from around the world. She points out features of the home and recounts historical facts, while addressing any questions visitors may have. If she is unsure of an answer, she does her best to research and find the answer so she can share the information with future guests.
Steinhoff does the same, and has come to know stories about many of the pieces of furniture that decorate the home’s many rooms. She loves telling stories about a sofa in the parlour that she claims is connected to former prime minister John Diefenbaker and a special marble table housed in the front hallway.
"It’s a slice of local history that is something out of the Wild West," said the retired teacher.
In addition to guiding tours, Steinhoff also enjoys doing research for new displays at the museum that feature important people such as Margaret Scott, who founded the Margaret Scott Nursing Mission to provide care to Winnipeg’s disadvantaged, or significant historical events like the Wolseley Expedition.
"I was looking for opportunities to learn more and to use what I already had. Teaching people about a beautiful house, a significant family and about the time period of this house, this was the best possibility," Steinhoff said.
The Dalnavert Museum is recruiting volunteers interested in helping expand the museum’s educational programming, as well as those interested in serving as greeters and tour guides.
For more information call 943-2835 or visit the Manitoba Historical Society’s website at www.mhs.mb.ca.
If you know a special volunteer who strives to make the community a better place to live, contact Erin Madden at firstname.lastname@example.org.