Historic Laurier House tour guide jobs eliminated
Sunday is the last day when visitors can get a guided tour of the historic Laurier House in Sandy Hill, as Parks Canada is eliminating the jobs of tour guides there.
The house closes Monday for the winter, and when it reopens in May there will be no more guided tours.
This is the result of the big cuts announced for the department in the last federal budget.
More than 1,600 Parks Canada employees were handed notices saying they might be affected by the cuts, and CBC News has learned the three full-time jobs at Laurier House will be eliminated. All three employees have worked there more than eight years.
For the last 10 years, visitors could show up any day of the week and have an interpreter guide them through Laurier House. But soon it will be by appointment only, and visitors will have an iPad for a guide.
Laurier House was built in the architectural style known as Second Empire in Sandy Hill, one of Ottawa’s oldest neighbourhoods, and at one time its wealthiest.
The house was home to two prominent Canadian prime ministers, Sir Wilfrid Laurier and William Lyon Mackenzie King.
"When Mackenzie King passed away in 1950 he willed the house to the nation, and he also left the contents," said Laurier House General Manager Lorenzo Cotroneo.
For the last decade, Parks Canada interpreters would take visitors through the home's 26 rooms, describe its wonders, and tell you the stories behind what you see. For instance, Mackenzie King had a fascinating private life, including secret séances and conversations with his dead mother.
"I really enjoy working here. It's my passion — because of seeing the reaction of people when they come in the house, when they see the collection, when they hear the stories of this great place," said Parks Canada interpreter Louise Hamelin.
"They are passionate about history, about this place," she said.
For the people who toured through the building, they're sad to lose the expertise of the people who work there.
"It's a significant piece of our history. So I think it's extremely sad," said visitor Sophie Hrycko.
Parks Canada is developing a computer application for iPads and a brochure to replace the Parks Canada interpreters.
Algonquin College conservation Prof. Terry Quinlan has been working in partnership with Laurier House for more than a decade.
He said replacing interpreters with a computer application will change the way the public experiences Canada's cultural past.
"Nothing can take the place of a person providing you with people-to-people exchange of interpretation. It's just not possible," Quinlan said.
He is also concerned about the safety of the artifacts in the house. When the house reopens for the summer in May, there will be two staff and six university students working there. But, since staff won't be accompanying visitors through the house, there's an elevated risk that items could be stolen, vandalized or misplaced, Quinlan said.