On May 31, 2009, transit fans from as far away as Montreal and Toronto converged on the city of Gatineau, Quebec, across the provincial boundary from Ottawa, to ride a classic transit vehicle. Built between 1959 and 1986, the GM New Look was once the most common transit bus in North America, with approximately 45,000 units being built in Michigan, Ontario and Quebec. By 2009, the bus was almost non-existent in the United States and was becoming rare in Canada as well. Only five Canadian transit systems, in Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, Regina and Saskatoon still had large numbers of the buses in service at the time, and the last major American system, in Santa Monica, had retired its buses by 2005.
With the Société de transport de l’Outaouais being the only provincially-mandated transit system in Quebec still using the venerable buses in revenue service, a group of local residents decided to charter the last remaining original STO New Look in revenue service. A GM T6H-5307N built at the new GM Canada plant in St-Eustache, Quebec, and delivered to the CTCRO in 1979, bus 7901 had been in service for thirty years and the STO was planning on operating the bus for as long as it could, and then preserve it once it had been withdrawn from revenue service. The bus was in excellent condition after having been refurbished at least twice, most recently in 2006 when an electronic destination sign was installed to replace the original rollsigns. For the charter, the STO required that the bus be signed as being chartered (“nolise”) when travelling between stops, but the driver changed the sign to appropriate destinations when the bus was stopped for photo opportunities.
The charter started at les Promenades de l’Outaouais bus terminal at 11:00 AM. The Promenades terminal was the major transfer hub for routes operating in the old Gatineau sector at the time. The next stop was at Place d’Acceuil on Maisonneuve Blvd. in Hull, which serves both the Place du Centre shopping mall and the Place du Portage government office buildings. This was followed by a stop at the nearby Terrasses de la Chaudière transfer point near Taché Blvd. and Eddy Street. A quick trip across the border into Ottawa allowed photo stops on Wellington Street in front of the Parliament Buildings, where the bus was signed as “31 chemin de la montagne,” and at Tunney’s Pasture, where STO buses serve a very large government office complex and providing quick service to Gatineau’s Aylmer sector. Here the bus was signed “28 le plateau.”
Because of a scheduling conflict, I was unable to join the charter until about 1:00 PM. By this time it had started to rain, but that did not stop the bus fans from filing out for another photo stop at the Parc-O-Bus Rivermead. For this stop, 7901 was signed as “40 wilfrid-lavigne”:
The next stop was at a small transfer point behind the Galeries d’Aylmer shopping mall where the bus was signed as “53 rivermead.” While the bus fans were taking photos, a young mother with a stroller approached the bus expecting to get on board, assuming the bus was in service. After much explaining and hand-waving—many of the bus fans didn’t speak French—the lady rather grumpily stepped back and 7901 pulled away from the stop. A few minutes later 0511 pulled up, let the mother on board and continued on route 53.
After travelling through some rural areas north of Aylmer, the bus entered the suburban du Plateau neighbourhood in the Hull sector. The bus stopped on du Plateau Blvd. near the Centre Montagne-Laramée shopping plaza and StarCité movieplex. Here the bus was signed “49 gabrielle-roy”:
Speaking of Gabrielle-Roy, the next stop was at the CEGEP Gabrielle-Roy on Cité-des-Jeunes Blvd. in the north part of the Hull sector. There is a terminal here for a number of bus routes travelling south through Hull toward Ottawa. The driver signed the bus as “35 ottawa via alexandra” for this stop.
As a surprise, the driver took us up to a junkyard on Audet Street at Labrie Street near the Freeman Park-and-Ride. Parked in the yard was former OTC bus 5911, a 1958 GM TDH-5105 which was still in relatively good condition despite apparently being exposed to the elements for many years. Despite several large mud-puddles in the area, several of the bus fans took photographs of the old bus:
After the junkyard stop, 7901 travelled down St-Joseph Blvd. to Jean-Proulx Street, where the bus pulled into the STO garage. After a short trip inside the garage itself, where we saw former Quebec City bus 8539 and former OC Transpo bus 7742, the driver parked 7901 outside in the lot and allowed the bus fans to roam the property taking pictures. Some of the buses parked in the lot included 0514, which had suffered a massive engine fire and was retired; former Quebec City bus 8620, which was having some transmission work done; retired GM Classic 8401; NovaBus hybrid 0702 and former OC Transpo bus 7757, which would have been used for the charter if 7901 had not been available. At this point all the bus fans gathered together for a group photo, after which 7757 was backed out for photos:
At this point, the driver decided to back 7901 into a slot next to 7757, but while he was backing in there was a sickening “crunch!” and when 7901 pulled away, the driver’s side mirror on 9402 had been shattered. However, the only damage to 7901 was some scuffed paint just behind the front door.
At this point I took the opportunity to take some interior photos of 7757 and 7901. Surprisingly, the interior of 7757 is almost unchanged since it was acquired from OC Transpo in 2005. Aside from a mirror over the rear stepwell, some STO specific stickers, the side and rear route markers being removed and one seat being replaced, there have been no noticeable changes to the interior of the bus. Even the original headsign stickers were still on the bulkhead above the windshield!
After the very long stopover at the STO garage, the bus fans finally got back aboard 7901 to continue the charter. The bus travelled south along St-Joseph Blvd. and Highway 5 and then headed east along Highway 50 toward old Gatineau. While we were travelling at the bus’ top speed of about 95 km/h, one of the older fans pulled out some photos that he had taken at the Bus History Association Convention in 1990. Some of the photos showed retired 1960s New Looks, a 1973 GM bus, some MCI Classics and a school-type bus used for Tunney’s Pasture service before the Orion II buses were purchased in 1992. There was a draw for these photos and even though I did not win, I was allowed to make copies of the photos for this website.
We pulled into the Parc-O-Bus Jean-René-Monette at St-René and Labrosse Blvds. where 0817 was parked. The driver changed the headsign to “76 les promenades” and one of the fans opened the vent on the front of the bus:
Finally, we headed back in the rain along Highway 50 toward les Promenades de l’Outaouais for our final stop and even though the charter was over, the driver still stopped the bus several times for photos, and signing the bus “67 ottawa via portage,” stopped the bus next to 0903, one of the newest buses in the STO fleet, as if to show how much transit has changed in thirty years:
It was a good day and many of the riders left having made new friends and looking forward to future charters. Also, many of the bus fans appreciated the excellent customer service provided by the STO, the professionalism and good-naturedness of the driver, and the remarkably pristine condition of the bus itself. The 7901 charter was a definite success and I am glad to have been a part of it.