The doors to Bellevue House may be closed for one more season, according to Parks Canada. It seems there may be much more work to be done on the one-time home of Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. MacDonald.
Bellevue House was hastily closed last spring, a day before it was set to open in late-May because the house was in need of plaster work on most of the first- and second-floor ceilings. Although the historic home was meant to reopen in the spring of 2019, Parks Canada says there will be more work done to the building.
“Parks Canada is taking advantage of the need for ceiling repairs to update other building systems that will be exposed during construction,” said Hugh Ostrom, national historic sites superintendent for Georgian Bay & Ontario East, in a statement sent to Global Kingston. “The ceiling repairs are now one component of a complete and exciting overhaul of Bellevue House.”
The government is also planning a full replacement of the roof but is currently unsure of what other renovations will need to be done.
The Liberal government is investing $400,000 for the plaster restoration, but Ostrom said they don’t know the complete funding for the project yet, since the scope of the renovation has yet to be determined.
“As the layers of the building are peeled back, we are gaining a better understanding of the timelines and costs to conserve this iconic national treasure,” Ostrom said.
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Parks Canada says they are unsure of when Bellevue House will reopen, and could only confirm the house will remain closed throughout all renovations. Like last year, if the house is closed during the spring and summer months, the historic grounds and the visitor centre will stay open.
Also to stay open is the site’s Many Voices of Confederation exhibit, a collection of pieces from Indigenous artists first unveiled in 2017 during the Canada 150 celebrations.
Ostrom said the exhibit is meant to “foster an open dialogue about MacDonald, create new connections between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians, and encourage discussions on the benefits and consequences of the creation of Canada.”
In recent years, Kingston’s relationship with Sir John A. MacDonald’s legacy has been strained, with some taking issue with his involvement in residential schools, an institution that arguably caused irreparable damage to generations of Indigenous people.
The City of Kingston is currently in the midst of holding public consultations to decide how it should deal with MacDonald’s legacy.
When asked why the federal government is doubling down on investing in something like Bellevue House, Kingston and the Islands MP Mark Gerretsen said it’s because of a dedication to getting history right.
“I think that we invest because we understand the importance of telling the story,” said Gerretsen. “It’s about telling history how it actually happened so that we can not just celebrate, but we can learn from it, and we can correct the courses of action as we move forward.”
The Bellevue House site is meant to open Saturday, May 18, 2019, and entry to the site will be free while historic house is closed. However, Parks Canada says fees will apply for special programs.
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