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Working towards distinction

Board considers papal grounds as heritage site

Derek Neary
Northern News Services

Fort Simpson (Dec 14/01) - Fort Simpson's papal grounds may officially be a national heritage site by next year.

The location is being considered by the Historic Sites and Monuments board in Ottawa, which advises the federal government on such matters.

Michel Audy, the board's executive secretary, said Parks Canada is expanding upon its research report on the papal grounds in consultation with Dene peoples. He said the board, which meets twice per year, will further evaluate the papal grounds submission when it meets again in April.

Liidlii Kue Chief Rita Cli said the First Nation is in favour of the initiative because the area has been a gathering place for First Nations people for hundreds if not thousands of years.

Audy acknowledged that the site is of great spiritual value to the Dene people, and noted that Pope John Paul II's visit in 1987 has added further significance.

"The message that (the Pope) communicated at the time was, I guess, a turning point in the relationship between the Catholic Church and all aboriginal people ... a message of reconciliation," Audy said.

A national heritage site designation does not carry any protective measures, he said.

Protection falls under provincial and territorial legislation, he said. Rather, the designation is the federal government's stamp of approval that a particular location is of historic significance to all Canadians.

A bronze, commemorative plaque detailing the site's history would be erected.

The site may also be eligible for Parks Canada's national cost-sharing program, which assists with preservation and presentation, such as displays and interpretive material, said Audy.