WINNIPEG – Manitoba’s politicians are begging Ottawa to reconsider a decision to close the historic Riel House.
Winnipeg city councillors tell the Winnipeg Free Press the humble wood-frame house in St. Vital is a critical part of the province’s history.
Liberal Senator Maria Chaput says closing Riel House will save Ottawa only a pittance while eroding Metis heritage in the province.
Parks Canada announced the closure earlier this week, blaming budget cuts.
The agency was helping pay for the St. Boniface Historical Society program that hires, trains and co-ordinates a small group of interpreters who don historical costumes and keep Riel House open to visitors four months a year.
Parks Canada says it must focus resources on sites and periods with peak demand, but says it will still maintain the house and offer self-guided tours of the property.
The home is where Louis Riel lay in state following his hanging in 1885.
Robert Allard, vice-president of L’Union nationale mÃ©tisse Saint-Joseph, Manitoba’s oldest Metis organization, has called the decision “a slap in the face.”
Chaput said she hopes the decision isn’t an attack on francophone heritage so much as poor planning.
“The minister has been asked to cut and maybe when they do it, they don’t take the impact on francophone heritage into consideration,” she said.
Chaput said Riel House fundraises to leverage cash from other sources, but it cannot do that without the small amount of help from Ottawa each year.
“It’s $56,000 a year,” Chaput said. “It is such a small thing.”
Greg Thomas, a former archaeologist at Parks Canada, said the government may have thought it could get away with some of the cuts it’s making to Parks Canada because many of the areas don’t have advocates to plead their case to the public.
“They are playing with fire,” he said. “It’s a symbol for the MÃ©tis in Manitoba.”
(Winnipeg Free Press)