Ottawa Citizen

FRED GREEN DRIVES BETTER ELECTRICAL­LY

- KELLY EGAN COMMENTARY

Fred Green has bundled his 90year- old bones against the raw cold of an October afternoon to preside over a peculiar ritual on the sidewalk along Riverdale Avenue.

He is putting away his bicycle. It is not an ordinary bicycle, nor is Mr. Green an ordinary cyclist — or man.

A PhD physicist, Mr. Green has long been an advocate of electric- powered vehicles, owning a series of electric cars since the 1970s, including his current one, a converted 1985 VW Jetta.

“ Hop on it, Fred, and you can demonstrat­e,” says friend John Purves, a fellow electric enthusiast. And with that, Mr. Green slowly folds himself into the strange vehicle: a bright- green tricycle, with a large, padded seat just inches from the ground, the feet thrust forward to the pedals, a Mickey Mouse bell on the handlebars.

He flicks on the battery, clicks on the motor, and off he goes, silently puttering along the sidewalk. He insists I try it, too, then hands me the keys to the Jetta for a spin to Bank Street and back. Electric- powered motion never had a better salesman, nor a harder sell.

When it comes to mass distributi­on, these rechargeab­le, gas- free vehicles seem cursed; always one breakthrou­gh away from arriving in your driveway. Mr. Green knows the history all too well, hoping for three decades that electric cars would make serious inroads with the motoring public.

The science has been a problem, sure; but so has the attitude of society and carmakers. It is no accident that a new movie called Who Killed the Electric Car?, the story of the rise and fall of GM’s cutting- edge electric vehicle, the EV- 1, has struck a deep chord with electric vehicle advocates.

But a curious thing happened earlier this month. Ontario Transporta­tion Minister Donna Cansfield declared that electric bicycles could legally travel on the province’s roads.

“ It is absolutely astonishin­g,” said Mr. Green. “ Everybody should be driving electric.”

Mr. Green is a rare bird, a man who grows old without giving in. What kind of a retired public servant, after all, orders a custom- made electric bicycle in his 90th year?

He is thin, with an angular face and a little brush of a moustache. His irises have age rings and his white hair is combed back in neat rows. He’s still a dashing presence, frankly.

Mr. Green was born on a farm about 10 kilometres west of Moose Jaw, Sask., in 1916. Times were tough during the Dirty Thirties, he remembers. The goats were so hungry, they ate the paper labels on tin cans.

In his early 20s, he became a school teacher. It was an unforgetta­ble class, the kind of numbers you remember 70 years later: 43 students from Grades 1 to 10 in a one- room schoolhous­e.

He had to deal with a couple of troublemak­ers right off the bat. “ It was either them or me.”

Mr. Green went on to study at the University of Saskatchew­an, where he earned a doctorate in the 1940s. He spent some time in the navy and was overseas in England for about a year during the Second World War.

He met his future wife, Marian, at a wedding at which she was a bridesmaid. On their first date, a dance, they won a prize during a spot dance: three weeks of lessons at Arthur Murray. The rest is history.

They were married in 1948 and moved to their home, on the hilly end of Riverdale, in 1949. The road was gravel then, said Mr. Green, and a market garden flourished across the street, where homes now stand.

In those early days, to refrigerat­e food, he used to buy blocks of ice, hauled from the Rideau River, for two bits.

The couple went on to have six children, though only three survive.

Mr. Green spent the bulk of his working life as a scientist with Canada’s Defence Research Board, retiring in 1978 after a career that took him to the Arctic, and under its oceans in submarines.

He was always a tinkerer, learning how to generate power from winddriven devices on the farm. He was among the first handful of keeners to own an electric vehicle in Ottawa and is a founder of the Electric Vehicle Council of Ottawa.

His first electric car, a Montrealma­de model called a Marathon, is in the collection of the Canada Science and Technology Museum.

He currently has in storage a sharp red sportscar made from a kit. The body is in the shape of a Lotus Super Seven, while various other parts are from the Ford Motor Co.

“ He’s probably more responsibl­e for keeping our club alive than anybody,” said Rick Lane, a builder of electric vehicles.

They never die, these eccentric electrics. They just go into storage until a brighter day happens to dawn.

 ?? BRUNO SCHLUMBERG­ER, THE OTTAWA CITIZEN ?? He’s been a longtime advocate for electric vehicles. He is a founder of the Electric Vehicle Council of Ottawa and, says electric vehicle builder Rick Lane, ‘ he’s probably more responsibl­e for keeping our club alive than anybody.’
BRUNO SCHLUMBERG­ER, THE OTTAWA CITIZEN He’s been a longtime advocate for electric vehicles. He is a founder of the Electric Vehicle Council of Ottawa and, says electric vehicle builder Rick Lane, ‘ he’s probably more responsibl­e for keeping our club alive than anybody.’
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