Riel House shuttered by federal budget cuts

The doors to Riel House National Historic Site are getting locked for good.

The doors to Riel House National Historic Site are getting locked for good.

The 132-year-old log and plaster home, where Louis Riel lay in state after his execution for treason in 1885, has fallen victim to the federal cuts to Parks Canada's budget.

As a result, Parks Canada has been forced to terminate its contract with the St. Boniface Historical Society, which provided guided tours by hosts dressed in period costumes.

The cuts mean the house will no longer be open for tours starting in September. Visitors will still be welcome to the site but will only have self-guided tours with information panels set up on the lot.

This is the last year that visitors to the Riel House will be able to walk through the inside of the 132-year-old home. (Parks Canada Agency)

Riel, the famed Métis leader and founder of the province of Manitoba, did not live at the house, which was owned by his mother. He visited only briefly in the summer of 1883.

But the house was where Riel's body lay in state for two days in December 1885, following his execution for his involvement in the North-West Rebellion.

It was also in this house that his wife, Marguerite, died in May 1886.

The house in the city's St. Vital neighbourhood, at 330 River Road, along the east side of the Red River, is "a rare surviving example representing Métis settlement of land in Canada, particularly of the ‘river lot’ system adopted on the Red River in Manitoba," according to Parks Canada.

It remained in the Riel family until 1968 and was acquired by Parks Canada in 1969.

It has been restored and re-furnished to its appearance in the spring in 1886, six months after the death of Louis Riel.

Winnipeg city Coun. Dan Vandal, who is Métis, is angry about the closure, saying Riel House is incredibly important to the Métis community in Manitoba.

Vandal can't believe area MPs Rod Bruinooge and Shelley Glover, who are also Métis, are not speaking out against it.

"I'm not convinced the members of Parliament are on side with this either. I think this sounds to me like a decision made in Ottawa. And when you talk about Métis history, decisions made in Ottawa aren't good ones."

Brian Mayes, another city councillor, said he will introduce a motion at Monday evening's Riel community committee meeting and will write a letter asking the federal government to rescind the cut.