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Historic Brill buses moved for display at Pool 6 (4 photos)

Trolleys built in Thunder Bay will be on display beside the Alexander Henry, showcasing city's manufacturing history.

THUNDER BAY – Charlie Brown still has fond memories of hopping on board made-in-Thunder Bay Brill buses as a child – and now, new generations of kids will have the chance to relive that experience.

The president of the Lakehead Transportation Museum Society was on hand Thursday as two of the historic buses were moved to their new location beside the Alexander Henry museum ship at Pool 6, where they’ll be on permanent display.

The move came after nearly two decades of work by volunteers to bring the buses back to Thunder Bay, restore them, and find an appropriate home.

“It’s 20 years in the making – I’m really excited today,” Brown said. “I think it’s really going to be instrumental in teaching the history of Thunder Bay.”

The electric trolley buses were built in the Canadian Car Foundry from 1945 to 1954, and were put in service in Canadian cities from coast to coast – including both Port Arthur and Fort William.

The production of the buses helped keep thousands of workers employed at the Can Car plant following the Second World War, and fed a booming demand from transit agencies.

“Because all the materials were going to the war effort, none of the transit facilities across Canada were replenishing their stock,” said Brown. “These trolleys basically revitalized the whole transit industry in the 1950s. They’re quite historic – they were sold from Halifax to Vancouver and everywhere in between.”

The buses came out of service locally just after amalgamation, in 1972.

Sitting beside the Alexander Henry, built at the Port Arthur Shipbuilding Company in 1958, they pay tribute to the city’s proud manufacturing history, Brown said.

“This is just another addition to what we believe should be saved in Thunder Bay, not only for the benefit of people of Thunder Bay, but for people travelling across Canada.”

The effort to preserve that history began in 2001, when the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 966 convinced the city to help purchase two locally-made Brill buses that had been sitting in a scrap yard in Richmond, B.C.

Volunteers restored and repainted the buses by 2007, even collecting paint chips to reproduce original colours for both the Port Arthur and Fort William transit services.

The buses, with their distinctive curved design, get a great reaction from the public, Brown said.

“A lot of people remember these buses,” he said. “They get on and they all have a story.”

Visitors will have a chance to relive those stories for themselves, he promised.

“We believe in being interactive… people will be able to get on them, kids can get behind the wheel and have their pictures taken, that kind of thing.”

The arrival of the buses at Pool 6 comes amid waterfront development that Brown hopes will bring many more locals and visitors to the site.

Those developments include the revitalization of the Pool 6 dock, which the city hopes will host cruise ship visits beginning in 2022, and the construction of the new Thunder Bay Art Gallery building, bridging Pool 6 and Prince Arthur’s Landing. The timing of the gallery construction remains uncertain.

“We’re the first footprint on the end of the property to actually develop it into a tourist attraction,” said Brown. “All of this development, if we can work together, I think we can really make this whole area really worthwhile for the public.”

Ian Kaufman

About the Author: Ian Kaufman

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