The grave state of a Diefenbaker's digs

John Diefenbaker's house needs some fixing, but paying for repairs isn't cheap

John Diefenbaker’s house has a crack in its foundation. The sunroom paint is peeling away, while the house itself lists northward. For the Prince Albert Historical Society, which maintains the home where Canada’s 13th prime minister lived from 1947 to 1975, that means a grant-writing marathon in the hopes the Saskatchewan or federal governments will cough up some of the estimated $400,000 needed to keep a piece of Canadian history in good repair. The society shouldn’t hold its breath, though. “It’s a very negative period” for heritage funding in Canada, says Christina Cameron, the former head of national historic sites at Parks Canada and now a professor at the Université de Montréal’s school of architecture. The high value that Canadian politicians profess to put on our history, she says, “doesn’t seem to translate into money.”

Dief’s old digs are far from the only historic site in need of TLC. Last summer reports revealed the dilapidated state of graves belonging to several former prime ministers, including deteriorating marble on Sir John A. Macdonald’s family plot and rust on Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s grave. Parks Canada, tasked with maintaining prime ministerial resting places and 167 other historic sites, saw its budget slashed by $29 million. For now, the city of Prince Albert, which owns the Diefenbaker home, is chipping in for the repairs. So too is a non-profit architecture society. The non-profit model has worked well in the U.S., where despite the American obsession with all things George Washington, donations and ticket sales—not tax dollars—provide upkeep for his estate and grave. A solution perhaps, to straighten up the Chief’s old house.