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Coronavirus: National historic site in Saskatchewan not reopening this season

The 18th season at a national historic site in Saskatchewan will not come to fruition due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to its founder.
The 18th season at a national historic site in Saskatchewan will not come to fruition due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to its founder. Doukhobor Dugout House / Facebook

The founder of a national historic site and provincial heritage property in Saskatchewan says it will not open this season due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

For 17 years, the Doukhobor Dugout House has offered a glimpse into what life was like for 46 families who left Russia and lived in the Blaine Lake, Sask., area at the end of the 19th century.

READ MORE: Grain elevator built by Doukhobors named Sask. Provincial Heritage Property

Founder Brenda Cheveldayoff said the site typically opens for students in June and then transitions to the general public until the second week of August.

But with COVID-19 restrictions for businesses, she said reopening was not in the cards this season, which usually sees over 3,000 visitors annually.

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“One of the things is social distancing. With that many people that are around in the yard, that’s completely impossible for us to do,” Cheveldayoff said on Monday.

“A lot of times when people come to a tour… they don’t just leave after the tour, they stay and they frequent some of the other buildings there. They sit and visit, have picnics and try our Doukhobor bread. I mean, there’s a lot of times people stay there for hours.”

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With Phase 3 of the provincial government’s Re-open Saskatchewan plan expected to loosen COVID-19 restrictions further on June 8, Cheveldayoff said the decision has already been made.

“We’ve talked about that and it would be difficult because of overhead expenses to open the business. It costs more money to run the business for the day than just have 30 people when we normally have anywhere from 250 to 300,” she said.

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“It’s really unfortunate because, being as we are a non-profit group, we depend on our visitors to run the business… and being a non-profit group, we depend on volunteerism and the gate proceeds.”

While other venues take experiences online, Cheveldayoff said it’s important for visitors to be physically present to enjoy the Doukhobor Dugout House.

“Because we bring you back into the experience and you, the visitor, are the participant. It’s not just somebody standing there telling you ‘this is how it was back then,’” she said.

“We will have you guys pulling the Doukhobor plow, not us. We’ll have you washing clothes in the spring, not us. A lot of our interactive with our tourism is bringing that visitor the experience by them participating in it. It’s a lot of activity.”

READ MORE: New Provincial Heritage Property recognizes African-American settlement in Sask.

Cheveldayoff said they have 14 volunteers, aged 65 to 91 years old, that dress in period costumes and do reenactments.

She added the federal government gives them access to a summer student program, which allows for the hiring of a paid employee from May until the end of August.

“Being as we’re closed to the public, we still have maintenance. You still have work to do. There are still artifacts to take care of. There are things to be done and we need our student and nobody seems to know what happened to the Doukhobor Dugout House application,” Cheveldayoff said.

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“I do have a student wanting to know if she’d be able to work and we’re still hanging… I’ve already had our application that had been done way in February, prior to any of this stuff.”

Global News contacted the federal government but did not receive a response by this article’s publication.

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