Painstaking restoration of century-old Ottawa streetcar nearly complete

A team of volunteers building a replica of a 100-year-old Ottawa streetcar hopes to have it ready in time for Canada's 150th birthday celebration on July 1.

Replica assembled using parts of streetcar last in service in 1959

A team of volunteers is busy building a replica of Ottawa streetcar No. 696, which was originally built in 1917. The city stopped using streetcars in 1959. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

A team of volunteers building a replica of a 100-year-old Ottawa streetcar hopes to have it ready by July 1, just in time for Canada's 150th birthday.

This replica streetcar is made with wood that sat at the bottom of the Ottawa River for decades. It was salvaged for the project, which the team hopes to complete this summer. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

Streetcar No. 696 made its last stop in April 1959, a month before streetcar service ended throughout the city. The streetcar was built in 1917, according to retired OC Transpo worker Rheaume Laplante, who is leading the project.

OC Transpo acquired its remains in 1989 after it had sat under a tarp for 30 years, rotting away. It was one of the 600 series of streetcars that was about 50 per cent steel and 50 per cent wood.

No. 696 was in such bad shape that all the team could do was salvage some parts and use them to build a replica. The team estimates the job is about 80 per cent complete.

'Just have to be patient'

"You just have to be patient. Every single nut and bolt you turn, every window that you restore, you know that you're making a big difference," says volunteer Teddy Dong.

Rheaume Laplante, a retired OC Transpo worker, is overseeing the volunteer project.

"It's bringing back the heritage of Ottawa and I can't explain it in words — the reaction of people when they first come and see the pictures of the streetcars and they go, 'Oh, I remember that as a kid.' But I don't, and I love making that happen [for future generations]."

Ken Hollington got involved by chance, but his grandfather and father built vehicles in downtown Ottawa many years ago and he enjoys learning about how they did things back then.

"So it's something to see, how my ancestors actually built stuff and how it was done 100 years ago. And we're duplicating it as close as we can to the way that they did it: the techniques, all the joints and the wood, and the type of wood," he says.

"... And I also see some of the mistakes they made, so that kind of makes me know that they were only human."

Listen to more of the interview with the volunteers here.