Residents of Ottawa and else where who were hoping to learn more about their family histories during a planned genealogy event in April are out of luck.
The 29th Gene-O-Rama was scheduled for April 5-6 at Library and Archives Canada in downtown Ottawa, but co-ordinator Mike More was forced to cancel the event due to rising costs associated with renting space from Public Works and Government Services Canada, the federal department that manages the facility.
The Ottawa branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society started Gene-O-Rama in 1981 in order to share knowledge on topics such as military history and the history of immigrant groups in Canada.
More and the Ottawa branch had been using the LAC for events and meetings for about three years. He says the branch members are disappointed about the cancellation.
“I’ve heard from a few people who are saying they’re going to write to their MP,” he says, adding that he contemplated filing a complaint with the RCMP for what he describes as a “bait and switch” tactic by Public Works officials: quoting one price and then adding subsequent fees and charges on top of that price.
In March 2012, More says Event and Conference Management (the branch of PWGSC which handles bookings at the LAC) informed him that the cost of renting three rooms would increase to 25 per cent of the market rate in 2013.
However, More says he was not told about additional fees at the time.
The total cost of using the space needed for Gene-O-Rama, which More was originally told would be $500, soon rose to $2,300.
“They would never tell us anything,” More says about the costs. “I’d hear a rumour from somebody or from another group.”
When he emailed the management branch asking if what he’d heard was true, More says it was only then that he was informed of possible further charges. These included a $125 fee for wireless Internet, cancellation of the half-day rate he had previously been quoted, a $500 fee to use the auditorium’s projector and equipment rental fees, despite the fact that Gene-O-Rama’s own audio-visual equipment was compatible with that supplied by PWGSC and had been used in the past, More says.
LAC officials told Centretown News in September 2011 that PWGSC would be taking over control of the building’s public spaces in January 2012. Groups would also have to receive approval from the relevant government department before hosting an event at the facility.
Public Works spokeswoman Annie Duguay said in an email that the federal government implemented the new charging arrangements at the library according to existing policy on property management to “recover for rental of space at a market based rate” and to recover the costs of goods and services supplied to NGOs and community groups using the space.
Rent was then waived until January 2013 after groups such the Free Thinking Film Society complained. Public Works would not introduce any new fees until 2013 to allow groups time to “adapt,” Michelle Bakos, a spokeswoman for the department’s minister, Rona Ambrose, told Centretown News in 2011.
However, More says service charges and other fees prevented him from continuing to hold monthly meetings at the LAC even before rent was charged. Now, other groups may be forced out too, says Gabrielle Charbonneau, community outreach manager at the Council of Heritage Organizations in Ottawa.
While she says understands Public Works and the libary have been affected by federal budget cuts, the fees and restrictions imposed by the department can be crippling for NGOs and community groups. Some groups don’t have offices of their own, Charbonneau adds, and depend on facilities like the LAC to hold meetings and events.
“(Volunteers) are putting all their time and energy towards organizing these events, so it’s disappointing to find that it’s no longer affordable to hold a small event for the community.”
Charbonneau says her focus at the Council of Heritage Organizations has turned to providing and locating affordable space for the groups it represents.
For More and Gene-O-Rama, that space is the City of Ottawa Archives on Tallwood Drive. The Ottawa branch has relocated there and will use the building to host a smaller-scale event in place of Gene-O-Rama on May 4.
The city archives building is not open in the evenings, forcing More to re-schedule meetings to Saturday afternoons, and while the space is sufficient for monthly meetings, it cannot accommodate larger groups or events, he says.