Riel House Closing Down

By Welch, Mary Agnes | Winnipeg Free Press, June 11, 2012 | Go to article overview
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Riel House Closing Down

Welch, Mary Agnes, Winnipeg Free Press

Historic home falls victim to budget cuts

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 metisse Saint-Joseph, the oldest Metis 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 Lagace 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.

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.

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