OVAR Report – March 2018

Earlier this week, I was in Canada’s capital as the guest speaker at OVAR – the monthly meeting of the Ottawa Valley Associated Railroaders. I had a great time – I’m so glad they invited me!

Before I report on the trip, some words about OVAR are in order…


OVAR is an amazing group. It’s been around for decades – it was established in 1961 – and has a membership of around 180 people. Key to its success is the informal nature of the group. It exists as a social organization – an umbrella for various other groups in the Ottawa area – and that’s it. Membership includes representatives of many such groups, of course – from round-robin operating groups and modular railroading associations, to members of the NMRA and other such official organizations, to those who volunteer at museums and other railfan/historian venues.

Anybody who has been part of a group or club in this hobby knows that politics can become a problem. It rarely is with OVAR, because it exists solely as a place to bring those various other groups and clubs together under one roof, once per month, for dinner and a presentation.

When I moved to Ottawa in the early 1990s, it was for a work opportunity. Never mind knowing fellow hobbyists: I knew nobody in the city. But I found the local hobby shops – and there, I found a brochure for OVAR. It sounded like a good way to tap into the local modelling community, so I attended a dinner. And then I signed up – because it was such a great concept.

Each of us in this hobby have a different approach to railway modelling. We all have preferred scales, prototypes, eras, degrees of prototype adherence, and so on. In addition, we each enjoy some aspect of the hobby more than others. Everyone’s approach is valid – but let’s face it: If the local club’s approach is too different from what you want to do, you won’t continue to be a member.

The strength of OVAR is all of those unique combinations come together in one room. So when I first joined, I’d use each dinner to sit at a table with a group of modellers, and talk to them about how they engaged with the hobby. If their approach was too different from my own, then I’d sit at a new table the next month, and so on until I found the people with whom I best identified. It took a few months, but what a great way to survey the hobby within an entire region!

I haven’t lived in Ottawa in more than 20 years, but I’m still regularly in touch with those friends I made at OVAR.

Having said all that, it’s not surprise that I had a wonderful time as the group’s guest speaker on Tuesday night. I talked with many old friends – several of whom I haven’t seen in person in years. (A few asked about blogging, so I have written another post on that topic, called “Why you should consider blogging“.)

What’s more, I thought the presentation went very well.


I talked about how I ended up modelling Port Rowan in S scale. I started with my days in Ottawa when I built my first prototype-based layout – on which I attempted to recreate a portion of the Toronto Hamilton & Buffalo Railway in the late 1970s in HO scale. Then, while helping a friend decide what to model, I realized the TH&B’s bridge line railroading was not for me, and I switched to a Boston & Maine branch line in the steam era. I was still doing this when I moved back to Toronto in the late 1990s and built my first B&M layout.

However, dissatisfaction with the performance of my fleet of brass HO steam engines – small models of small prototypes – and recognizing in myself an interest in detailing structures and scenes, I moved up a couple of scales, to model a Maine two-footer in O scale. Here, after several years of progress, I ran into an unexpected setback: Modelling a Maine two-footer while living in southern Ontario was a lonely prospect. There just aren’t that many people in the hobby who are interested in The Standard Gauge of Maine. I was also frustrated by poor running qualities of my On2 fleet.

While searching for ideas for what to do next, I met the members of the S Scale Workshop and the die was cast.

There’s more to the story – and I hinted that it might be time for another change – but I’ll save that for future presentations.

As with many of these events, the guest speaks after dinner – and the dinner is a buffet style. Whenever doing this type of event, I’m cognizant that the audience isn’t looking for a clinic – it’s not an RPM meet. They want to be entertained – and they’re going to be sitting in a dark room (so they can see the presentation) after a big meal. Talks have to be general enough to appeal to an audience with broad-ranging interests.

Therefore, I framed the talk in such a way that I hope those in the audience who are curious about making any sort of change in their own hobby have some ideas about the research they should do and questions they should ask before diving in – in the interests of knowing, ahead of time, what they’re about to undertake.

After dinner speeches also have to be entertaining enough to keep everybody awake. I didn’t hear any snores from the audience, so I think I did okay.

I’ve done this talk before, but this was the first time I’ve presented to an audience in which several members lived through my various changes in direction. It was novel, and fun, to be able to expand on some of those stories.

When I do a trip like this – where I stay for less than a day – I like to treat myself to a good hotel. (I’m glad I did – the weather was, well, wintery: that made the 4.5 hour drive from Toronto to Ottawa feel even longer.)

OVAR covered the price of a modest hotel. I paid the difference and gave myself an upgrade, booking into the Chateau Laurier – one of a family of grand old railway hotels built by Canadian Pacific.

Chateau Laurier - Main Lobby

I got to my room late in the evening, and looked out my window in time to see an entourage pull up: a fleet of black vans with red/blue flashing lights. They showed up again the next morning to collect their passengers:

Chateau Laurier - Belgium Entrouage

I found out at breakfast that the King and Queen of Belgium were in town, and staying at the Chateau. They even left behind some terrific waffles, which I thoroughly enjoyed:

Chateau Laurier - Belgian Waffles

All in all, a fine trip!

14 thoughts on “OVAR Report – March 2018

  1. Trevor, I am sorry that I missed your presentation but I heard the next morning at the Bytown Railway Society’s “Dirty Hands Club” restoration session that you “rocked” the place. BTW, the Chateau Laurier was owned for a while by Canadian Pacific Hotels but it owes its provenance to the Grand Trunk Railway. Again, keep on “rocking and railroading.”

    • Hi Philip:
      Thanks for the feedback – and thanks for the clarification on the history of the Chateau Laurier. You’ve just proven that blogging works as a valuable source of information gathering. And also proven to me that I should’ve picked up the book on the hotel’s history – I saw several copies at Lark Spur Line the next day…

  2. I think we just missed each other as OVAR members. My last dinner was probably 1989. It is a super institution, and I’ve often wondered what it would take to start something similar here in Vancouver.

    By the way, I believe the Chateau Laurier was built by the Grand Trunk. That was the GT station across the street, and accessible from the hotel via a tunnel. The GT, of course, took over the Canada Atlantic depot, which was in the original military stores building on the same site.

    • Hi René:
      We missed each other by a few years…

      As for starting a similar group: remember, it took more than a half century for OVAR to reach the size it is today. It started in the 60s with just six people, I’m told.

      A couple of years ago, I started a similar group in Toronto. I got in touch with a dozen people I know, told them to each invite someone, and picked a date to meet at a local pub.

      (I worked with the pub so they knew we were coming, and picked a Monday because that’s a slow day in the restaurant business: the pub appreciates the traffic.)

      That group is still going strong and gets anywhere from 20-35 people per dinner, every month. We’re now doing presentations. And two club members have taken over the organization to give me a break.

      I should probably do a post on this at some point, with advice for starting such a group…


  3. Trevor,
    I was surprised and pleased of your thoughts of the NS&T electric railway. I have modeled in traction my whole modeling life. Oregon OH adjoins Toledo which had eight electric lines serving the city plus a local system. At one time it was the second largest railroad center and second electric railway center only to Chicago. Please add my name to your NS&T blog. I realize I do not post as I am a caregiver 24-7 and have little time to enjoy my hobby.

  4. Trevor:
    Great analysis of what of OVAR is all about. I too, was an OVAR member, and served on the executive in one way or another during my twenty-odd year relationship with the organization. Those dinner meetings spawned many friendships and afforded me the opportunity to improve my model railroading skills with like-minded souls.

    Now living in Kingston, we here, with the help fellow transplanted, ex-OVAR members, Andy Chisholm, Bob Farquhar and John Licharson, have created a similar-formatted organization, The Associated Railroaders of Kingston. Formed back in 2015, the meetings are held once-monthly, on the second Tuesday, at a local restaurant. And, each month, we usually have a member-based presentation for the 30 or so members who show. Our current membership is around 70. Not bad for a city of 120,000.

    Next time you’re travelling near Kingston, and it’s the second Tuesday, please join us.

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