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McClung houses officially open

Lauren MacGill

Minister of Sport, Culture and Heritage Rochelle Squires, Wilma Wallcraft and Minister of Infrastructure and MLA for Midlands Blaine Pedersen unveiled a plaque to honour William Wallcraft for preserving the buildings and donating them to the Municipality of Pembina. (LAUREN MACGILL, Morden Times)

Minister of Sport, Culture and Heritage Rochelle Squires, Wilma Wallcraft and Minister of Infrastructure and MLA for Midlands Blaine Pedersen unveiled a plaque to honour William Wallcraft for preserving the buildings and donating them to the Municipality of Pembina. (LAUREN MACGILL, Morden Times)

MANITOU - 

Teacher, speaker, activist and suffragette Nellie McClung’s previous homes are back where they belong.

On September 8, much of the community of Manitou gathered on Main Street to officially welcome the buildings to their new home and celebrate, once again, McClung’s history and Manitou’s heritage.

“To those of us who have been inspired by Nellie McClung for much of our lives, being here right beside her old homes in the community where she lived for two decades feels like visiting an old friend and mentor,” Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba Janice Filmon said. “[McClung] would be filled with joy to learn that the mandate of this heritage site is to inspire young people with the message that regardless of their circumstances, a single person can change the world for better.”

Filmon participated in the planting of a maple tree in front of Hazel Cottage to mark Canada’s 150th.

“It is not lost on us this day that Manitoba’s head of state is a woman,” Al Thorleifson of the Moving Nellie Home Committee said, drawing cheers from the crowd. “How proud Nellie would be. How proud Nellie would have been today that her fight for women’s rights resulted in so many women taking their rightful places in the highest offices of the land.”

The houses offer a glimpse into the past, back when women weren’t allowed to vote, and feature some of McClung’s own books and furniture. One such piece was featured during the ceremony.

“I want to note that this lectern was one of the only things that was saved from the fire in 1930,” Thorleifson said. “We are presuming that this is the lectern that Nellie McClung used herself when she spoke in the campaign of 1915.”

The fire Thorleifson is referring to was one that burned down the previous Manitou Opera House.

The two houses moved to their new homes in August. The new location on Main Street is being called the Nellie McClung Heritage Site. One is the home in which McClung and her husband Wes raised their children. The other is Hazel Cottage, where McClung boarded as a teacher at Hazel School just north of Manitou.

The houses have quite a history. Previously, they were owned by the Archibald Museum, founded by the late William Wallcraft. When the museum closed in 2016, its owners offered the two buildings back to the community.

“The moving and restoration of Nellie’s homes has been a labour of love for many,” Thorleifson said. “None of what you see [here] would have been possible without the vision of William Wallcraft, who in the 1960s and 70s saw what nobody else did: the need to safeguard the legacy of Nellie McClung.”

The committee hopes to put together a smartphone app that will allow people to take self-guided tours of the houses and of Manitou.