Volunteers Ken Hollington (left) and Paul Bruyere (right) trim foam for the streetcar's new seats at the OC Transpo garage on Colonnade Road. The replica is being assembled with parts from the original streetcar. Sarah Kazak, Centretown News

Students restore retired streetcar

By Emma Fischer

An old streetcar that used to rumble through Centretown in the early part of the 20th century is nearing the end of a restoration project, to be unveiled by Canada Day.

Streetcar No. 696 has generated a lot of publicity at a high school in Ottawa’s east end.

Rideau High is in danger of being closed down, but the refurbishing of the streetcar has been a good news story after students and teachers took over the job from some former OC Transpo employees a few years ago.

Mark Backmann, an auto mechanics teacher at Rideau High, said the school took on the project to allow themselves to do something a little different compared to other schools.

He said it’s also been a big benefit to students academically.

“The reason we’re doing this project is to be outside of the box, but we found that it’s inadvertently increased our female numbers in the class,” Backmann said.

“We have a great turnout and a great response from everybody. The fact that girls want to take classes like automotive and woodworking and combine their cross-curricular skills, it’s really been a win-win for us.”

The bright red streetcar was built in 1917, during the First World War. It ran for over 40 years before being retired in 1959.

It carried passengers between Rockcliffe Park and Britannia Bay back in the mid-1940s and ’50s, travelling right through Centretown along Albert Street.

The streetcar travelled along Line A and made 146 trips per day, carrying hundreds upon hundreds of passengers.

Christian Joyal is a Grade 12 student who plans to go into auto repair after graduating high school this spring.

He has been directly involved with the streetcar project for four years and is really looking forward to the rest of the public seeing the finished streetcar.

“My favourite part would have to be the fact that I’m working on something that I can see be unveiled one day, and people look at it and I can say, ‘Hey, I worked on that!’” said Joyal.

Emily Taylor, a Grade 10 student, said that her favourite part has been learning about the history of the streetcar while also getting the chance to work on it.

“I don’t know if I live in an area where there used to be streetcars, but it’s interesting to see how they used to run on the tracks throughout Ottawa.”

Backmann said that this project has also helped teach students about giving back to their already tight-knit community.

“Being an inner city school, we’re trying to teach that if you give back, it creates new opportunities for people and opens new doors.”

Rideau High School is in danger of being closed down by next September, as part of a plan to transfer students to Gloucester High School.

Students and parents are actively trying to fight back to keep the school open.

Backmann said he hopes that the streetcar project will help increase enrolment and shed a positive light on how great Rideau High School is.

“We have this great facility right in the community and we’re really hoping that this project will help, as well,” said Backmann.

Students and volunteers at the school will continue to work on the streetcar project to have it done by the summer.

The unveiling of the project is expected to be held at Lansdowne Park on July 1.