OTTAWA — Artifacts collected by Parks Canada that tell Manitoba’s history will be stored in one central location with other items, to the worry of local archeology experts.
Larry Ostola, vice-president of heritage conservation and commemoration at Parks Canada, confirmed Monday the agency will bring hundreds of thousands of artifacts — furniture, clothing and even pieces of permafrost — to a centralized location, likely near the Parks Canada headquarters in Gatineau, Que.
The consolidation would slash $29 million from the Parks Canada budget over the next three years.
But archeologists in Winnipeg aren’t so sure this isn’t a step toward killing off Canada’s history piece by piece.
“They are literally closing down the vast majority of records and our heritage and our history,” said Leigh Syms, former curator of archeology at the Manitoba Museum and a professor at the University of Manitoba.
Parks Canada has an enormous collection of artifacts in numerous locations nationwide. Some are those collected for various historic sites and parks like Lower Fort Garry. Others are discovered on archeology digs on Parks Canada land. The rest are submitted by the public.
In Manitoba, the items include such things as clothing from early settlers and from First Nations. There is even organic matter from northern permafrost in Manitoba. They are the artifacts used to tell the stories of the province’s history at Canada’s national parks and historic sites.
They are artifacts collected at places like The Forks, Lower Fort Garry and York Factory.
Each item has been carefully studied and preserved by teams of archeologists and museum curators and other experts.
Greg Thomas, a former archeologist for Parks Canada in Winnipeg, said moving everything to Ottawa is a blow to many tourism attractions.
Thomas said the regional offices provide a level of knowledge and expertise that a consolidated national location cannot match. He said it just doesn’t make sense for someone in Manitoba to have to turn to someone in Ottawa when they want to learn about Manitoba history.
The amount of work that can be done to collect, preserve and use the artifacts will also be unmatched with an estimated 65 per cent of the professional staff at Parks Canada being laid off.
“We’re talking the researchers, the historians, the archeologists,” Thomas said.
“These are the ones who can take these collections and work with the (national historic) sites to bring them to life.”
Parks Canada is keeping a team of 10 national archeologists who will be called on when needed to go anywhere in the country, Ostola said.
He said the move of the collection will take place over the next three years but said there shouldn’t be any worry that warehousing the items in Gatineau will be any different than warehousing them in separate locations across the country.
“We will continue to have the expertise needed in all the relevant areas,” he said.
He said any time someone wants to access an item they will be able to.
Syms isn’t buying it, noting it is hard to believe how a smaller number of people can properly preserve and offer the same kind of access to thousands of items.
“They won’t be accessible for historians, for exhibits or for researchers,” he said.
Thomas said the numbers just aren’t there to ensure the same level of service. There used to be more than 10 archeologists and historical professionals working in the western region alone. Now there will be 10 for the whole country, two of whom are based in Winnipeg.
» Winnipeg Free Press
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition June 12, 2012