Friday, September 17, 2010

Bus ride reading: Ottawa's Streetcars

On the recommendation of a commenter on this website, I went to the Ottawa library to pick up Ottawa's Streetcars: An Illustrated History of Electric Railway Transit in Canada's Capital City, by Bill McKeown (Railfare - DC Books, 2006). I was not disappointed.

In all, 256 pages with over 300 photos, a good number of them full-colour, and a rich written history of our city's long-lived yet quickly-discarded system of streetcars. McKeown assembled the authoritative history of Ottawa's streetcar system in this volume, and the output of his 50 years of research seems like it would take someone attempting a similar undertaking today much, much longer.

As tempting as it would be to simply flip through the book for the pictures, doing so would leave you missing the rich stories McKeown tells in the work. Like the legend of the reason why the Ottawa Transit Commission stopped running any routes with the number seven in them: Because a child was struck and killed in a collision with the number seven train. And McKeown's exhaustive appendices offer more than enough information for the most ambitious and information-hungry transit enthusiast.

Although the large hardcover work is more suited to coffee-table reading that bus ride reading, it's definitely worth reading for anyone with even a passing interest in the history of public transit in Ottawa.

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