Hyperbole of historic proportion


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Budget cuts at Parks Canada have triggered a wave of hyperbole in Manitoba -- "they are closing down our history" -- and much of it can be blamed on the Harper government's trademark inability to communicate.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/06/2012 (4000 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Budget cuts at Parks Canada have triggered a wave of hyperbole in Manitoba — “they are closing down our history” — and much of it can be blamed on the Harper government’s trademark inability to communicate.

The decision to centralize archeological services in Ottawa and reduce the number of professionals in the province will have minimal impact on daily services to the public, but it is still an unfortunate loss to researchers and academics. It also adds both a bureaucratic and geographic barrier between federal archeological collections and the Manitoba scholars who might want to use it.

It’s motivated by the government’s cost-cutting agenda, but how much will be saved is unknown, or at least not disclosed. An enormous saving of millions of dollars might be defensible if it could also be shown it won’t significantly damage historic services, but information on these important questions is lacking.


Amid the cacophony, however, a few facts have been neglected.

The federal government is not picking on Manitoba. In fact, until now, Winnipeg was one of only four major service centres in the country for archeological inventory. Other historic objects owned by Parks Canada are also warehoused in Halifax, Quebec City and Ottawa. Calgary and Vancouver had small satellite services, but Winnipeg’s warehouse was a major hub for Western Canada.

Groups in Nova Scotia are complaining about the loss of their new custom-built warehouse in Dartmouth, but the rhetoric is more subdued than here. The vested interests in that province also ignore the fact their Parks Canada warehouse held collections from across the Maritimes, including rare and highly valuable artifacts from Newfoundland and Labrador.

There was no rallying cry by Nova Scotia’s archeological community for the return of Newfoundland’s history, any more than Winnipeg’s experts lobbied for Saskatoon and Regina to have their own warehouses.

Confusion over the future status of Riel House, meanwhile, is another example of the Harper government’s difficulty in making a clear announcement.

Parks Canada will cut $56,000 in funding for interpretive services at the end of this season, meaning the historic house could be padlocked and closed to visitors next year. Environment Minister Peter Kent and St. Boniface MP Shelly Glover then muddied the issue by claiming it would remain open without explaining how that would be possible without money to pay staff.

The federal contribution was pocket change, which the community can probably replace, if there is a will to maintain the same level of service. The site alone is historically significant, but opening the house to visitors brought to life the story of Louis Riel and the Métis system of land organization.

Canada has 42 national parks and park reserves, as well as 950 national historic sites, of which 167 are administered directly by Parks Canada.


They may be expensive to operate, but they also generate revenue, including $2.7 billion by visitors last year alone. Parks Canada made money for Canadians, so the Harper government should explain why it is trimming such an important service. In fact, the department was the hardest hit by Ottawa’s plan to cut jobs and costs. Nearly 700 jobs have been declared surplus, and more cuts are planned.

Despite legitimate concerns about the impact, Manitoba’s history will continue to be on display in scores of provincial and federal heritage sites. The Manitoba Museum, which does not rely on federal researchers or artifacts from Parks Canada, will continue to tell the story of Manitoba from the earliest times to the present.

The St. Boniface Museum, the Transcona Historical Museum and a dozen more will also go on telling their stories, using artifacts patiently collected over the decades.

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