Restoration of Streetcar 696

Restoring a piece of Ottawa's transit history!

Every Wednesday night, a group of volunteers comes together at its new location at 164 Colonnade Road and work on bringing back a piece of Ottawa's transit history. Since 2000, the team has been dedicated to the restoration of Streetcar 696, the last remaining 600-series streetcar that serviced Ottawa between 1915 and 1959. The goal is to run Streetcar 696 on one of our remaining tracks for residents and tourists visiting our city.

Streetcar 696 was acquired in 1959 by the Canadian Railway Museum (CRM) as part of its collection in Saint Constant, Québec. A group of volunteers brought 696 back to Ottawa in 1989. In 2000, then-general manager Gordon Diamond suggested that the restoration could become a volunteer opportunity for Ottawa area rail enthusiasts. Arrangements were made and through word of mouth, a small group of volunteers came forward to offer their expertise. The Streetcar 696 Restoration Project went into full swing.

The streetcar was in horrible shape. Four decades of exposure to the elements had turned the car interior into a mess of rotting wood and rusted metal. It was questionable if the car could be restored at all, but the team decided to go forward with the project. Original parts were salvaged as much as possible, but it was clear that the team would have to rebuild the majority of the car from scratch.

Restoring the streetcar has proven to be a challenge. Besides the fact that it has to be rebuilt from the ground up, the tools used to construct a vehicle manufactured almost a century ago just aren't available anymore. Also, most of the streetcar blueprints disappeared with the Ottawa Electric Railway Company (OER) when it was sold in 1947.

However, the team has persevered. Thanks to their variety of skills and trade backgrounds the necessary welding, electrical, upholstering, and machine work is covered. For instance, project coordinator and OC Transpo retiree Rhéaume Laplante does the bulk of the bodywork. Georg Rubli, an electrician by trade, is restoring the car's truck system. Mike Mueller does pretty much anything the team requires, including upholstery work and riveting. Regardless of the job, the team has found a way to make it work.

Over the years, the team has reached out for help to other rail experts and companies such as Lucon Metal, Wood Sources, etc... Presently Eric Vardon and Jason Belland at Malmberg are rebuilding the leaf spring for the trucks. Establishing relationships with the Toronto Transit Commission, the CRM, and the Halton County Radial Railway has given volunteers access to tools, spare parts and a wealth of experience in rebuilding antique streetcars.

"We've relied so much on museums, companies, and other rail enthusiasts for advice and donations," said Laplante. "Just today, a gentleman from Winnipeg confirmed that he'd send some parts. These donations make the project possible."

Our volunteers' relationship with the Halton County Radial Railway is especially important to the project. For one weekend every year, the volunteers make a trip to the museum in Guelph, which is home to the biggest collection of working streetcars in Ontario. In exchange for much-needed parts and advice, our team offer their skills and do work that Halton's volunteers wouldn't be able to complete otherwise. Their work one year was rebuilding the suspension on a streetcar. in 2011, they taught Halton's volunteers how to use a spray gun for priming and painting.

The annual trip to Halton isn't all work, though. Everyone's highlight is when the day's work is done and they get the chance to drive the large collection of operational streetcars. Experiencing what it's like to drive a working streetcar keeps the team's dream of a fully-operational Streetcar 696 alive.

One's bound to ask, why continue such a lengthy project; what drives you to continue? The answer is simple, says Bruce Dudley, a former streetcar operator and team member. "We've worked together for years, some of us for more than a decade. It's not only about the streetcar - it's about the friendships we've made in the process. I just hope that I get a chance to drive the thing before I'm too old!"

Our goals are to have the streetcar 696 project complete and ready for service on its 100th anniversary and the 150th anniversary of the City of Ottawa in 2017. The restoration team is seeking corporate sponsors and donations in the form of materials, services, and financial contributions. The restoration project has had several business partners who have helped for years, and whenever possible, the project team members acknowledge their help. Once Streetcar 696 is completed and operating for the public, all long-term sponsors will be recognized with signs and posters at any project event.

If you'd like to contribute to the project, please contact:
696 Streetcar Project Coordinator,
Rhéaume Laplante 613-521-1664 

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