The national historic site, located in south Winnipeg, will cease all interpretive services and likely warehouse its historic artifacts after this summer.
As part of federal budget cuts, the Winnipeg Free Press reports Parks Canada has decided to terminate its contract with the St. Boniface Historical Society. The society hires and trains the four or five costumed interpreters who keep 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 métisse Saint-Joseph, the oldest Métis 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 Lagacé 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 — 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.
Manitoba field unit superintendent Marilyn Peckett said budget cuts have forced Parks Canada to focus resources on sites and periods with peak demand. Sites with relatively few visitors are seeing cuts to programming.
Riel House normally gets 4,000 to 5,000 visitors a year. It was double that before Parks Canada began charging a small fee for entry three years ago, which helped improve programming.
More than 30 historic sites across Canada are moving to self-guided tours without full-time interpretive staff.
Peckett said Parks Canada will continue to maintain Riel House and the site.
"We're not walking away from the site at all," she said. "It is one of our nation's treasures."
And she held out hope some other funding solution involving local historic or Métis groups could be found.
In the coming weeks, Parks Canada will begin working with those groups to see if that's possible, Peckett said.
On Sunday, the house was closed to visitors. It won't open on weekends this season until July.
But Bev and Lloyd McCabe, visiting Winnipeg from Brandon for the weekend, stopped by and got a sneak peek inside when a staff member opened up the house for a crew of documentary filmmakers.
"That's unfortunate," Lloyd McCabe said when told Riel House would likely close at the end of the summer.
"It's an important part of our history," Bev added.
(Winnipeg Free Press)
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