A passionate effort to save Dalnavert Museum has succeeded in winning new life for the Victorian-era showcase for Winnipeg history.
Shuttered for the last 20 months, feared by many to be closed forever, the national historic site at 61 Carlton St. reopens May 30.
Let history record the property's saviours are the Friends of Dalnavert, a group of heritage advocates. They took possession Friday of the building that was the Winnipeg home of Sir Hugh John Macdonald, the son of Canada's first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald.
Three of the directors of the Friends group, as well as members who devoted countless hours of volunteer time to rally public support, were on hand as the key was turned Friday.
"This is a celebratory day for the Friends of Dalnavert who have worked very hard as a team to have the museum open again. This house is going to have a new lease on life and it will be sustainable," said Cindy Tugwell, executive director of Heritage Winnipeg.
The house's former owner, the Manitoba Historical Society, locked the doors on Labour Day 2013 due to tumbling attendance, but the Friends plan to do Dalnavert differently.
"We are a group of people deeply committed to exploring and sharing the history of our city through this house we have our sights on the future. We are delighted to be part of a new day for Dalnavert," said Vanessa Warne, another Friends director and a University of Manitoba professor of 19th-century literature.
Other directors include Adèle Hempel and Claudette Leclerc, CEO of the Manitoba Museum.
"We worked really well with the Manitoba Historical Society on this. Through them, we'll have two summer students this year," Hempel said.
The timing of the opening coincides with the heritage community's annual Doors Open Winnipeg. The event, in which the city's heritage facilities and museums open their doors with free admission, falls on the May 30-31 weekend this year.
After that, Dalnavert will charge a nominal admission to the public, probably less than $10 per person.
Debate over the museum, one of the finest surviving Victorian-era homes in Winnipeg, brought heritage advocates, the city's museums and charitable organizations together to work out a plan to keep it going for the next five years.
"The feasibility study advocated that we had to have core funding to sustain us. We couldn't just rely on admissions and it's a complicated funding formula," Hempel said, outlining three separate funding sources: the province, city and the Winnipeg Foundation. The lion's share will be drawn from a trust fund set up by donors in the 1990s as an endowment for the museum. It's a million-dollar fund the Manitoba Historical Society agreed to share three ways, with the bulk of it to provide funds to Dalnavert's upkeep.
The society also handed the property over for $1 to the Friends.
"In addition to what this has been, a gorgeous home and a (showcase) for the history that's been lived here, it's got to connect with the wider community, with partnerships, with various creative groups and artists in the city," said Brock Capell, a documentary and film-audio specialist working closely with the Friends on programming.
Inside the house, the furnishings looked dusted and ready for visitors. A caretaker had watered the plants in the solarium, the dining room table is set for dinner the way it would have been in 1895, when Macdonald poured the money he inherited from his father into its construction. He lived in the home until his death at 79 in 1929.
"We want to honour the heritage advocates and visionaries from the 1970s. They restored Dalnavert and made the place viable and brought it back to life," said Ines Bonacossa, a medical doctor from Argentina who knows the history of almost every item in the house. "All of it is period-appropriate."