Listuguj Mi'kmaq, heritage advocates disagree on fate of historic Gaspesian residence

Preserving Maison Busteed, an early 19th-century building, "would just remind us of something that was taken from us," says Mi'gmaw Chris Wysote.

Preserving building 'would just remind us of something that was taken from us,' says Mi'gmaw Chris Wysote

Heritage advocates want to preserve the Maison Busteed, but members of the Listuguj Mi’gmaq community say it is a painful reminder of their colonial past. (Radio-Canada)

The fate of one of the oldest homes on the Gaspé Peninsula, Maison Busteed, hangs on the outcome of a debate between the Listuguj First Nation, which wants to see it torn down, and heritage advocates who want to see it restored and preserved.

The Listiguj Mi'gmaq — who own the abandoned early 19th-century home — say it is a painful reminder of colonialism.

"How would it benefit us as Listuguj people?" Chris Wysote, a Listuguj Mi'gmaw, told CBC's Quebec AM.

 "It would just remind us of something that was taken from us."

The British-style residence was built around 1800 near the municipality of Pointe-à-la-Croix, on the Restigouche River near Campbellton, N.B. 

Wysote said the original inhabitant of the house, a loyalist named Thomas Busteed, was supposed to share the crops he grew with the Listuguj community, but he did not honour the agreement.

Maison Busteed was classified as a historic property by the province in 1987 for its architectural and patrimonial value.

It was purchased from the Busteed family by the federal government in 2009 and transferred to the Listuguj Mi'gmaq after almost two decades of land claim negotiations.

"In the Gaspé, and in Quebec, we cannot accept to demolish our built heritage," said Jean-Marie Fallu, the president of Patrimoine Gaspésie, a heritage group trying to preserve the house.

"I know this house is a symbol for the Listuguj Mi'gmaq community of negative British colonization," he said. 

"But we invite the Listuguj Mi'gmaq community to see this case, not as a problem, but like a sharing with the non-native community."

The windows of the historic Maison Busteed have been boarded up because vandals threw rocks through them. (Radio-Canada)

The surrounding property is now being used by the First Nation as a sacred place to hold ceremonies, including sacred fires, talking circles and sweat lodges, although the house itself is not being used.  

Wysote said the community intended to use the house to perform the ceremonies, but once they started doing so, someone began vandalizing it by throwing rocks through the windows.

"We had to get to the point of boarding that up and putting cameras out there just to make sure it's not vandalized," he said.

There's been a proposal to transform the house into a treatment or healing centre to serve the people of Listuguj, but Wysote said the renovations may be cost-prohibitive., and it may be easier to tear down Maison Busteed and build something new on the property.

The ultimate decision rests with the Listuguj chief and council, Wysote said, for whom he can't speak.