Future of Ross House uncertain due to lack of city support, say caretakers

The caretakers of a city-owned Point Douglas museum say they can no longer afford to run the historic site due to a lack of funding.

Manitoba Historical Society says it won't run city-owned museum anymore, gives city 60 days notice

Ross House in the North Point Douglas neighbourhood. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

The caretakers of a city-owned Point Douglas museum say they can no longer afford to run the historic site due to a lack of funding.

The Manitoba Historical Society says it has given the City of Winnipeg 60 days notice that it plans to terminate its agreement to run Ross House.

The issue comes down to funding and finding dedicated staffing, said MHS president Gordon Goldsborough.

"The money that the city has given us has, unfortunately, not increased," said Goldsborough. "We used to be able to [run the museum] on a revenue-neutral basis to the society. Now we lose [about $2,000 annually.] We're a small society. We can't afford to lose money on something like this."

The historical society was also recently informed that the current curator, Victor Suelo, plans to retire, said Goldsborough.

"If it weren't for him, it would have closed long ago," said Goldsborough. "The difficulty then is to find someone else who has the same passion, who has the same ability."

Ross House, which was constructed in the 1850s, was the first post office in Western Canada and is one of the last examples of Red River frame architecture in the city, said Goldsborough. 

Point Douglas Residents Association chair Sel Burrows says the association is prepared to help, rather than see Ross House shut down. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

The house was saved from demolition and has been moved several times. It currently sits in Joe Zuken Heritage Park, in the North Point Douglas neighbourhood, and is only open in the summer. It has also been the target of vandalism in the past, Goldsborough said.

"Occasionally we get problems. We get vandalism, we get people that … sleep on the property at night. They will sometimes leave refuse behind," Goldsborough said.

"That's just part and parcel with operating in certain parts of the city. And Victor's been fabulous at being able to deal with that, but we just haven't been able to find somebody to take over from him."

The MHS has tried to communicate its needs to the City of Winnipeg, said Goldsborough, but has yet to hear any replies to requests for more funding.

"Even before the decision to close it, we had expressed to the city our concern that the fact that the grant that we were given simply wasn't adequate to cover costs. And we never got a reply. So in the end we just had no alternative but decide to close it.

Sel Burrows on Ross House

5 years ago
Duration 0:23
The caretakers of a city-owned Point Douglas museum say they can no longer afford to run the historic site due to a lack of funding.

"The communication really has been one-way. We've been trying to communicate and the city hasn't been responding."

The city confirmed it has received notice the MHS is terminating the agreement.

"The City of Winnipeg values its historic properties and their importance to the community," a spokesperson for the city said in an email.

"We are currently reviewing the Manitoba Historical Society's letter and considering next steps regarding the maintenance and operation of Ross House."

Blow to the neighbourhood

To lose the museum would be a blow to the neighbourhood, said Sel Burrows, chair of the Point Douglas Residents Committee.

"It's part of the ethos of North Point Douglas," he said. "It provides a very positive influence, it's part of their green space, it brings people to see our wonderful community.

"It has historical artifacts inside there that go back to, well, Lord Selkirk settlers."

The residents committee is prepared to raise money to cover the shortfall, said Burrows, but he added he believes the issue is more than just the money.

"I suspect the real issue is people involved in things like the historical society are mostly middle-class, from nice communities and they find our community a little rough."

Burrows said his group has not been contacted by the MHS or the city about helping to keep the site going.

"We could help them. We could make this even more dynamic than it is," he added, gesturing to Ross House. "We feel abandoned when people close something important to our community."

With files from Radio Noon and Jaison Empson