Manitoba

Ross House Museum saved from closure

A city-owned Point Douglas museum will live to see another summer of visitors after fears it would have to be shut down earlier this year.

Seven Oaks House Museum will take over management after Manitoba Historical Society backed out in February

Ross House Museum, located in Point Douglas, was in jeopardy of closing after the Manitoba Historical Society told the City of Winnipeg it no longer wanted to operate the museum. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

A city-owned Point Douglas museum will live to see another summer of visitors after fears it would have to be shut down earlier this year.

In February, the Manitoba Historical Society (MHS) gave the City of Winnipeg 60 days notice that they would be terminating their agreement to operate the Ross House Museum on Meade Street North.

The Seven Oaks House Museum, another historical house in the North End, will take over operations of Ross House until the end of the summer.

"We really weren't willing to let the place close and the residents in Point Douglas really made it clear that the place was important to them and that they weren't willing to let that happen either," said Eric Napier Strong, curator of Seven Oaks House Museum.

Napier Strong says after working with the North Point Douglas Residents Committee, Heritage Winnipeg, and the Manitoba Métis Federation, they've come up with a plan to keep the doors open until the end of August.

Eric Napier Strong, curator and manager at Seven Oaks House Museum, says the sister museum felt compelled to find a way to keep Ross House open. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

After that, they will meet with city officials in December to decide if the arrangement will continue.

Ross House was constructed in the 1850s and was the first post office in Western Canada. It's also one of the last examples of Red River frame architecture in the city.

Napier Strong says the museum will open this weekend as part of Doors Open Winnipeg, a free city-wide event that celebrates Winnipeg's distinct historical spaces and architecture.

Napier Strong says there are many more events planned for the museum, including historic walking tours of Point Douglas, cycling tours and paranormal investigations, which have been a hit at Seven Oaks House.

"We're working on a lot more events, kind of community focused," said Napier Strong.

"Community engagement, outreach and really trying to connect with the community and find out what it is that they want from their museum, trying to respond to that."

Ross House was built in 1854 and was the first post office in Western Canada. It's also one of the last examples of Red River frame architecture in the city. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

One of the previous events held at Ross House was a Canada Day barbecue, which will be held again this summer.

"I think people are excited, a lot of the neighbours have been stopping by and asking what's happening, they've been really concerned about the museum," said Napier Strong.

"In some ways it can be a wake-up call — people don't always appreciate these things until they think they might be gone."

Develop community connection 

As far as the challenges that led to MHS backing out of the arrangement, including funding and problems with vandalism, Napier Strong says he's not worried.

"The issues here are not unique to this neighbourhood nor to anywhere else. At Seven Oaks House Museum we have had problems with vandalism and the answer is not shutting the doors and leaving," he said.

"The answer is really engaging the community to help people develop a sense of ownership and a sense of pride in the place, and to really make them feel like it belongs to them … and it's up to them to protect it."

The museum will remain donation-based and still relies heavily on support from the community. But Napier strong says it will remain free to ensure people of all income levels can afford to enjoy it.

Napier Strong says the Manitoba Métis Federation has provided key funding that will allow them to hire summer students.

There are also plans to revamp some of the exhibits inside the museum and update the written displays.

Napier Strong says there are plans to update some of the artifacts inside Ross House, including these written displays. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

He hopes that people in the community will reconnect with the museum and it will become more of a cultural hub than just a place that offers a glimpse of history.

"[Museums are] not just a dead place where we talk about the past, I think museums really play a crucial role in the intellectual and cultural development of their community," said Napier Strong.

Ross House will remain open to the public until Aug. 31 from Wednesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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