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Ottawa high school restoring a piece of Ottawa's transit history

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WMC by Richard Lipman
Richard Lipman is president of the Wood Manufacturing Council. For more info email

We have had the pleasure over the past year, of meeting with high school woodworking teachers across Canada and visiting their shops.
Their concerns for their students and their enthusiasm is evident and while the availability of space and the level of technology in their shops as well as the number of students varies by location, these educators are doing interesting and creative things with and for their students.
We saw final projects and work in progress and heard about the good things the students are contributing to their schools and to their communities. One such example is currently going on in the Ottawa area.
Ottawa’s Rideau High School’s Woodworking and Transportation classes have begun work on ‘The 1917 Streetcar Restoration Project.’
The aim is to have the project complete and ready for service on its 100th anniversary and the 150th anniversary of the City of Ottawa in 2017.
Technical knowledge and skills - such as auto mechanics, metalwork and woodworking - all come into play as students learn and apply their knowledge to making the cabin fully functional again. Rideau high has offered the Wood Manufacturing Council’s WoodLINKS program to students for many years and their woodworking teacher, Bob Aucoin, was a WMC HR Award Recipient recently, in the WoodLINKS Success category.
This project forges a connection between the past and the present while the work moves forward. Rideau students are ethnically very diverse. For many of them, Canada is their newly adopted country. This project will help them connect to their new land’s past, as they get first-hand experience with this part of Ottawa’s history.
Numerous volunteers, made up of current and retired OC Transpo employees and rail enthusiasts, eager to see Streetcar 696 back on track, brought the streetcar back to Ottawa. Determined to restore it to its former glory, the dedicated volunteers have been donating their time and expertise since they began the restoration in 2000, 41 years after the vehicle was taken out of service.
The project has proven to be a real challenge. Besides the fact that the streetcar has to be rebuilt from the ground up, the tools used to construct a vehicle manufactured almost a century ago just aren't available today. Most of the blueprints disappeared with the Ottawa Electric Railway Company when it was sold in 1947.
The volunteers approached Rideau’s Bob Aucoin, who enrolled auto shop teacher Mark Backmann in the undertaking.
“I think the students will remember this more than anything else they do at Rideau,” said Aucoin, who has been at the school for 25 years.
Rideau’s involvement has been a great addition to the restoration group, but the project has benefits beyond learning metal and woodworking skills for the students. It has helped unlock the student’s talents and the volunteers see that the kids are eager to learn. Already, students have spent about 1,300 class hours helping the volunteers. The project’s ultimate goal, to give back to the community, aligns with Ottawa Carleton District School Board initiatives and values. Students and volunteers will collaborate with local business also, while gathering materials for the restoration.
The students got a hands-on history lesson in late spring as they worked on Streetcar 696, which carried passengers around Ottawa (1917-1959). The kids travelled to an OC Transpo garage and collectively sanded the vehicle and worked on a challenge with the installation of one of the doors they had made. Others ensured the windows they had built in the school shop were the right fit.
“Knowing we’re working on something that will be used for a long time to show Canadian Heritage is special”, said Sam Breton, a Rideau student.  
Throughout the project, students will collaborate to fabricate many of the parts needed - creating new doors, hinges, and work with sheet metal to build new seats and patch rusted areas of the cabin. They will study and employ technical knowledge to reinvigorate the streetcar’s flooring, windows, doors, dash, ceiling, roof, as well as other parts of the streetcar. They will work with metal on the car’s frame and substructure while using wood to recreate the upper portion and interior of the 696. Students will also discover the original methods of building used to construct the streetcar, nearly a century ago. 

Richard Lipman is President of the Wood Manufacturing Council.

With files from Rideau High School


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