2nd Edition of our Canadian Bestseller Available Again!

2nd Edition of our Canadian Bestseller Now Available!

A reprint of our popular coffee table book: 500 Ways You Know You’re From Windsor, 2nd Edition, has just been released. Over 650 photos of Windsor, Detroit and area – including over 60 new ones! A great walk down memory lane for Baby Boomers or anyone interested in seeing what Windsor was like between 1945 to 2000.

500 Ways is a two-times Canadian best seller!

240 pages, hardcover, 650 full colour and black & white photos, $30 plus gst

To order this book or our other current titles, go to our website: http://www.walkerville.com


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Don’t Know Much About History?

Wow. This is certainly a busy weekend for local history and arts enthusiasts (and for those who aren’t). Doors Open, Walkerville Rocks, Ford City Arts & Heritage Festival, Windsor Essex Open Studio tour  – are on the agenda as part of Culture Days (Sept. 28 to the 30th), plus the grand opening of the Windsor Symphony in the gorgeous Capitol Theatre on Friday night. To top it off, the Windsor Fall Home Show has been thrown in for good measure.

Since there’s so much history being celebrated, it’s the perfect time for yours truly and my partner in crime, (I swear that rhyme was unintended – ok, I did it again) Chris Edwards, to do some signings of our fun local history books “Windsor Then” and “500 Ways You Know You’re From Windsor”. To start, we’ll be at Indigo Books on Friday from 5 – 7, then at the Gourmet Emporium as part of Walkerville Rocks almost all day Saturday, and on Sunday we’ll be in Ford City (look for us at the old photos display at 1023 Drouillard) from 11 to 1, and then we be set up shop next to our buddy, Mark Bradac of Pawnathon fame, at the Home Show from 2-4. (You can bring your old treasures for him to check out and maybe even purchase.)

Have you ever had a look at the Gourmet Emporium in Olde Walkerville? It’s located in a stunningly beautiful old building on the corner of Wyandotte and Chilver. Originally a bank this building had an interesting past. I give you the following story, which we ran in a long ago issue of The Walkerville Times:

The Great Bank Robbery of ’59

by Currie Bednarick

Little do the patrons of a local hair salon know they are being pampered in a building that was once the site of a real-life cops-and-robbers drama.
June 9, 1959 was an unforgettable day to anyone in or near the Bank of Montreal at Chilver and Wyandotte in Olde Walkerville. Two men, Nicholas Hamilton (alias McCormick) of Vancouver and Kenneth Irwin of Toronto, wearing white jackets, hoods, and sunglasses, entered the bank that afternoon, armed and ready to get their black-gloved hands on some easy cash.
Adele Pare, a local housewife, was making a withdrawal when one of the men thrust a gun into her back and grabbed her, exclaiming, “This is a stickup. Do as we say or you’ll get it, and we mean it.” The men forced her and another customer into a corner of the vault along with the bank’s 15 employees. The chief clerk, Norman Wingrover, tripped the alarm along the way. The three female tellers were robbed of a total of $10,733 before the pair attempted to make their getaway.
The first officer to arrive at the scene was Const. Brian Pickup. He had spent eight years as a policeman in his native England before moving to Windsor and joining the force in 1957. Forty years later, Pickup can still recall the incident quite clearly. “A call came out over the radio saying there was a robbery at the bank. When I got there a large group of people had gathered around the building.”
He had only seconds to take in the scene. “As I got to that block, I saw a woman with her hands in the air, and then a man with a bag in one hand and a gun in the other. I didn’t draw my gun because a stray bullet could have gone into the crowd.”
Instead, Pickup lunged for the robber, Nicholas Hamilton, throwing him over his shoulder onto the sidewalk and kneeling on him to hold him down until the other officers arrived.

Unfortunately, he was unable to see inside the bank, and assumed that the man he was holding captive had been working alone. That mistake could have cost him his life.

To read the rest of this story click here walkervilletimes.com.

(I just had to add the poster some very talented person created for the Ford City Festival this weekend. )

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Snail Mail in Sandwich, Ontario

From a Sentry Box, to Postmasters’ homes, from General Stores and Shoe Stores to the current Sandwich Post Office, Sandwich certainly has had its share of different post office locations.

As with most small towns, the post office in Sandwich was once the place to get all the gossip. You could pick up your mail and spread the news, in one convenient stop.

Back in those days, the Postmaster was held in high esteem. After all, he was responsible for the delivery of the town’s mail, bringing news from other parts of Canada — or the world — to the town folk, sort of like an 19th century version of Peter Mansbridge.

The first Postmaster of the town of Sandwich was William Hands, who held the title from 1800 to 1835. He also held the positions of Sheriff, District Treasurer, Customs Officer, Judge of Surrogate and Registrar Surrogate. Obviously a pretty hands on guy. (No pun intended, I swear.)

During Hands’ term as Postmaster, he ran it from his home, built in 1780. (Too bad it was torn down years ago.) This very first Sandwich Post Office was located on Main Street (now Sandwich Street) at the north end of town. Close to the street were a gate and a “Sentry box” type hut, where town folk picked up and dropped off their mail.

Hands died Feb. 20, 1836. (Some of you might remember, or even attended, William Hands High School on  California Avenue off of Tecumseh Road West. William Hands is now Century High.)

After Hands’ death, the position was given to George Gentle in 1834. (Great name.) He operated a General Store and post office, across the street from the Courthouse (now Mackenzie Hall Cultural Centre).

A view of Sandwich Street looking South. The current post office is on the far left. (circa 1910)

Edward Holland was the Postmaster from 1838 until his death Feb.7, 1843. This post office was at his residence on the corner of Mill and Peter.

Next was Pierre Hector Morin who kept the post office in the William G. Hall building, at Lot 5, East Bedford Street.

Calixte St. Louis took charge of the post office in 1865 and retired in 1881 when Victor Ouellette became Postmaster and ran it from several locations, including the McKee building, Clarke Bros Shoe Store and the Girardot building at the northwest corner of Mill and Sandwich (replaced by a modern government building). The words POST OFFICE could be seen in the step on the south side of the building at the doorway.

On August 8, 1885, John Spiers received the appointment of postmaster, held until June 1, 1907. He kept the post office in his general store, which was on the northeast corner of Sandiwch and Mill, and is now The Mill tavern.

The Dominion Government secured a permanent home for the Sandwich Post Office in 1907 on the southeast corner of Mill and Sandwich. This brick and stone three-story building was erected at a cost of $15,000. Mr. Spiers and Miss Jessie Spiers were postmaster and postmistress, respectively. The Honourable R.F. Sutherland K.C. M.P. was chiefly responsible for securing the monies needed to build the post office.

The second-floor apartments were for Inland Revenue & Customs House. John McLean was the Customs Inspector; John Mcleod was appointed janitor and lived with his family on the third floor.

During the Sandwich Old Boys’ Reunion, held in August 1909, a former town resident, William Leech, donated that large fountain in the front of the post office. Despite attempts to close the post office in recent years, it still continues to operate out of this beautiful old building.

The Olde Sandwich Towne Festival starts tonight, Friday, Sept. 7, 2012 and continues through the weekend (starting at 10 am Sat. and 11 Sunday) in the Mill and Sandwich area. There will be live entertainment, 1812 historical displays, fireworks, cricket, drum and bugle shows, buskers, clowns and local vendors selling jewelry, arts and crafts. At 10:30, Saturday morning, the Freeing of the City by the Essex & Kent Scottish will take place at the Olde Sandwich Town Hall between Mackenzie Hall and the Post Office on Sandwich. (For more info check out their facebook group.)

Look for History Babe and Chris Edwards too. We will be having a sale and signing of our latest history books, “Windsor Then” and “500 Ways You Know You’re From Windsor” in the vendor area on Saturday and Sunday. Check our books out at walkerville.com.

(all photos are from the archives of Walkerville Publishing)

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A cool place named Oxley. Yeah, O-x-l-e-y.

Oxley, Ontario. My mind instantly conjures up images of beasts of burden lumbering about. “And just where is this mythical place?” I ask Chris who has called me from his family’s Oxley cottage to invite me to a party.

Apparently, there’s a hamlet by this name about forty minutes south of Windsor near the shore of Lake Erie. Maybe I had passed through once upon a time with my parents, but I’d blinked.

I nervously follow Chris’s directions through the flatlands of Essex County in what seems like the middle of nowhere (so many fields of corn! It was as if the scenery was a film loop) convinced I would never find it and I would be forever scorned by Chris (who I have only just met) and his family as a city girl. Luckily, I succeed and while I am slightly disappointed by the lack of oxen, I appreciate how Oxley’s rural charms quickly melted away all my stress.

So maybe I had never heard of the place, but lots of people had. Oxley used to be crawling with sun-seeking tourists. In fact, on August 11, 1905, as reported by the Amherstburg Echo, “one of the largest crowds ever accommodated at the Oxley summer resort spent Sunday there. The Pere Marquette train [to Harrow] was so crowded that people had to stand on the steps. Seven (horsedrawn) busloads left Harrow on the arrival of the train, and a second trip had to be made.

And just what was the attraction? Originally known as “Oxford” the name was changed to Oxley due to people confusing it with other Oxfords in Ontario. (Gee, who knew there were so many?) Agriculture had been the mainstay of the community since the first settlement in 1792, but from 1890 until nearly 1950 the village attracted throngs of weekend visitors and ‘summer people’, many coming all the way from the Detroit area. Oxley was then one of the most beautiful spots on the shore of Lake Erie with, as the Echo noted, its “thickly wooded bank and excellent beach being unsurpassed.” Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

Catering to the crowds were local boarding houses and two hotels: the Ravine and the Erie View. The Ravine Hotel was developed strictly for Detroiters.

John Arthur Ridsdale, who came to Canada from New York as a United Empire Loyalist, once owned the site of Oxley. During his ownership of the 400-acre site, he dammed a stream to provide waterpower to run a grist and saw mill. Years later, the ravine property was owned by Philip Ferriss who ran a lumbering business there and lived in the Ridsdale house. Logs were skidded down the ravine to the lake. That must have made quite a racket.

Logging in Comber, Ontario not far from Oxley (from the book Gateway to Canada by Neil F. Morrison)

A large brick home built by Stephen Julien became the basis for the Ravine Hotel when R. Arthur Bailey of Detroit purchased it in 1902. The name derived from the ravine running down from what is now County Road 50 to Lake Erie. He built a 3-storey addition to the Julien house for a dining room and bedrooms, rebuilt the dock erected by Risdale and lobbied unsuccessfully for a trolley line from Harrow to Oxley. (Maybe because he pissed the locals off by running his fences across the beach and out into the lake to restrict access to his stretch of waterfront.)

Bailey brought the first automobile to the Ravine Hotel that year and his wife was the first woman to drive in the area. The roads leading away from Oxley were virtually impassable in those days but as the popularity of the auto grew, the roads improved. On the July 4th holiday weekend in 1916, despite it being the middle of World War 1, the hotel accommodated “one of the largest crowds in the history of the resort. By noon the place was thronged. Hundreds of motors were parked along the lake road in every available spot…”

It’s thought that during WWII, Oxley’s popularity with Detroiters was enhanced even more because gas rationing meant that they could only drive short distances (and it sure was a lot easier to cross the border back then!). When rationing ended, the popularity of Oxley dwindled and the crowds stopped coming.

now the Holy Retreat House

In 1947, the Roman Catholic Diocese of London bought the Erie View Hotel and established a religious retreat the next year. The Ravine Hotel closed and is now lived in by the Cantarutti family who run the Ravine Cottages and Seasonal RV Park (established in 1969).

There is no longer a post office at Oxley, (once considered the most important in Essex County), and the cricket club, tennis club and baseball team have faded into the dim recesses of the past. But the area is still beautiful and while Chris’s cottage is no longer in the family, over 30 years later (yes, I married him) we continue to make the journey south each summer to visit friends lucky enough to spend their summers in a funky old air stream trailer in one of the prettiest spots on the Ravine Cottages property.

A photo I took of the beach at Oxley

If your travels have never taken you to Oxley, this is the perfect weekend. It’s the 3rd annual Explore the Shore event when shops, farms, restaurants, B&Bs and wineries along historic County Road 50 welcome you from 11 am to 5 pm on Saturday and Sunday (July 28 & 29, 2012).

There’s even an 1812 scavenger hunt and if you get your passport (which you can pick up at participating businesses) stamped by five businesses you could win a grand prize.

Details and a map are on the Explore the Shore website.

The Ravine Cottages are located at 445 County Road 50 East. There will be lots to see and do here as they are having their annual huge yard sale, food and refreshments will be available, as well as a display of vintage trailers (ever heard of Tin Can Tourists?) open for tours on Saturday only.

And that’s where you’ll find Chris and I this Saturday from 11 – 5. We’ll be having a sale and signing of our latest local history books: “500 Ways You Know You’re From Windsor” and “Windsor Then – a pictorial essay of Windsor, Ontario’s glorious past”. Check them out on our website: walkerville.com.

Sources for this story include “Harrow and Colchester South: 1792-1992, Harrow Early Immigrant Research Society (HEIRS), 1993.

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Summer in the City: Mid-20th Century

Ouellette Avenue, looking north towards Detroit near Park Street, early 1960s. (courtesy Tim Baxter)

* Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city
Linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty

So go downtown, things’ll be great when you’re

Are you pining for the good ole days when the streets of downtown Windsor were alive with people bustling between all those wonderful department stores, jewelry shops, fur boutiques and movie houses? Well, you can still go back to those heady days by rifling through the pages of our latest book, “500 Ways You Know You’re From Windsor”.

In the featured photo above, you can see once familiar landmarks including Birks Jewellers, the George Wilkinson ad and a billboard welcoming U.S. travellers to our city as they exited from the Detroit/Windsor tunnel.

“I recall going downtown on the Eire bus for seven cents and hanging around in Smith’s and the Metropolitan Store,” said local radio personality Wayne Stevens. “It was a maturing thing to go by yourself those Saturdays to the Palace or Vanity to see a movie, a cartoon and then another movie – all for a quarter!”

In 1954, Windsor celebrated its 100th anniversary. This giant cake stood on Ouellette Avenue south of Park Street above the Tourist Information Centre. (courtesy Andrew Foot)

Above is another photo featured in the book. I wonder what happened to that cake? (Hey, I just noticed that the guy in the foreground looks like my dad!)

We sold out of the second edition of this book in early 2017, which brought us to 10,000 sold – a double best seller in Canada! Woot! Woot! We recently financed our third print run (we’ve financed almost all our local history books ourselves) so if you are looking for copies, they can be found at Chapters, Devonshire Mall, Coles Books in Tecumseh Mall, Indigo Book in Lakeshore, Juniper Books (Ottawa Street between Kildare and Argyle), Biblioasis (Wyandotte E. at Gladstone) and other locations. For our full retail list, check our website: walkerville.com

You can also purchase directly from us! We’d be happy to sign them for you.
Call us at 519-255-9527 to set up a time to come by our publishing house (it’s literally a house 🙂 in Walkerville or email sales@walkerville.com

* words from “Downtown” by Petula Clark

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Lost Children of Windsor

I promised Adele M. M. McLennan I would post this charming photo in my blog. She brought it to my attention through something called Facebook. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. And perhaps you’ve come across some of Adele’s musings; she is a prolific poster of all things Windsor.

Here is a bit of our facebook chatter:

Adele: here’s a mystery for you. Perhaps someone might recognize this family. My mum always said these children were no relation to us, just friends of her family. This old photo has always fascinated me. You will see info on the back: Freeman or Truman?? 489 Caron Ave.

Me: What a great photo! it looks like the boy is named Truman and the two girls are Hazel and Marjory and their last name is Randall. Definitely an intriguing mystery!

Adele: Thanks Elaine! You could be right about the boy’s name being Truman. It would be wonderful if someone recognized it.

Me: I think that the pic may have been taken a few years earlier than 1925 based on what the children are wearing, and especially as the girls have long hair. The short “Bob” and “Shingle” cuts were in style for girls and women in the 20s. Therefore, whoever dated the card, might have done it years later and was estimating the year. And one more thing: as there is currently no 489 Caron Ave., perhaps they meant to write “487”, which does exist.

And now, gentle reader, do these children look familiar? Perhaps they are long ago relatives of yours? Or, are you are in fact looking at your own portrait?

If so, please let me know. Adele will be most grateful.

Local history lovers – especially those born post WWII – will adore our latest book: “500 Ways You Know You’re From Windsor”. Even if you weren’t born here, there’s so much to behold and enjoy: over 680 color and black & white photos of what made Windsor such a special place to grow up in from between 1945 and 2000. Available at Indigo Books, Coles Books, Juniper Books, From the Heart Gifts, The University of Windsor Bookstore, Ellis  Graphics, The Windsor Community Museum, Unique Gifts (Essex) and online through walkerville.com.

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The Canadian Club Girl: 1897

Walkerville is the home of Canadian Club whiskey. (You may have heard of it. Wink.) You see, in 1856, a middle-aged American businessman who wanted to augment his Detroit enterprises decided to cross over a one-mile river to the wilds of Canada from Detroit to set up a flour mill, and shortly thereafter, a distillery. And the rest is, as they say, history. (You can read more about good ‘ole Hiram Walker here.)

While rummaging through the archives of “The Walkerville Times”, (the local history paper/magazine my partner in life and business – Chris Edwards – and I have produced since 1999 about Walkerville and Windsor history), the following article about one of Hiram Walker’s granddaughters jumped out at me. I do hope you like it.

The Life & Times of Ella Walker – Granddaughter of Hiram Walker

by Jennifer Widner

Ella Walker (drawn at the time of her marriage to Count Matuschka). Detroit Tribune, June 16, 1897.

In 1897, Detroit and Walkerville celebrated one of the biggest social events of the time. “The Canadian Club Girl,” Ella Walker, the only child of Franklin Hiram (a son of Hiram Walker) and Mary Holbrook Walker, announced her intention to marry Count Manfred von Matuschka, a Hungarian nobleman. The wedding was a gala affair. Over 500 guests assembled at the Franklin Walker mansion after church ceremonies. Surrounded by roses and palms, they sampled hors d’oeuvres catered by Sherry’s of New York and sipped “red lemonade” spiked with Walker’s Canadian Club. Reports of the wedding filled many newspaper’s society pages.

Ella’s extraordinary life provides a glimpse of Detroit and Walkerville in the Gilded Age (1890-WWI), as well as a compelling personal tale. Both are the subject of a book project launched by University of Michigan professor Jennifer Widner and several colleagues around the world. Widner spent a month at the Rockefeller Foundation’s research centre in Bellagio, Italy. Each day she passed a photograph of an older woman who had a special sparkle in her eye. Upon learning that the woman was the original owner of the estate and that she had come from the Detroit area, Widner wanted to know more. So did her fellow scholars.

The outline of Ella’s story has taken form over the past several weeks. Widner and her colleagues are looking for descendants of relatives or friends who might have recollections or correspondence. “I would like to know what Ella thought of the events she lived through, what she enjoyed or found fun, and the choices she made.”

Ella was born in 1876. She entered wealthy Detroit-Walkerville society whose members were beginning to turn their attention to art and philanthropy. As a teenager she watched her uncle, Edward Chandler Walker, help launch the Detroit Museum of Art (now the DIA). She may also have encountered Charles L. Freer, the local business magnate who later endowed the Smithsonian Institution with his extensive collection. And she would have known James McNeil Whistler’s aunt and sister, both of whom lived nearby.

Married life was not always easy. Ella settled with the Count in Upper Silesia after their marriage. He was a naturalized German citizen and when World War I broke out, the Count fought on the side of the Kaiser. The U.S. Government confiscated Ella’s property, including businesses in which she had a joint interest. Ella also lost her U.S. citizenship. She lived a humble existence behind the lines in Berlin, to the distress of her parents.

Ella’s home, Villa Serbelloni, overlooking two branches of Lake Como, with the village of Bellagio, Italy below.

The interwar years were turbulent. In 1926, Count Manfred died. Four years later, Ella re-married, but the union lasted less than two years. In 1932, Ella regained her U.S. citizenship and married for a third time. Her new husband, Prince Alessandro von Thurn und Taxis, the Duke of Duino and Prince of Torre e Tasso, was a naturalized Italian citizen. The two settled in Italy but appear to have lived much of the time apart, while he sought to re-build the Castel Duino near Trieste, his seat, and she sought to renovate the Villa Serbelloni on Lake Como. The Prince died five years after the marriage.

In the last quarter of her life, Ella’s project was the restoration of the Villa Serbelloni and its grounds. A site of considerable historical significance, the Villa itself had fallen into use as a hotel, and Ella set herself to the task of its rescue. When German occupation forces moved in, she escaped over the Alps to Switzerland, returning at the end of the war to continue her mission.

Ella’s grandfather, Hiram Walker, had seven children

Franklin Walker – Ella was his only child

On her death in 1959, Ella left the Villa to the Rockefeller Foundation to promote international understanding. She gave much of her remaining fortune to her adopted daughter. And she remembered the local tie too. Franklin H. Walker, Ella’s father, was the first member of the Hiram Walker family to attend college, the University of Michigan. Ella left the University of Michigan a gift in her parents’ names to help extend educational loans to needy students.

History Babe’s note: many photos from Walkerville and environs are featured in our three amazing recent books: “Windsor Then – a pictorial essay of Windsor, Ontario’s glorious past”, “500 Ways You Know You’re From Windsor” and “A Forgotten City”. We are currently working (Sept. 2015) on a new Windsor history book that should be available beginning of Dec. 2015. You can order our books online or pick them up at Juniper Books, From the Heart Gifts (both on Ottawa Street), and other locations detailed on our website: www.walkerville.com

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Run Like a Girl

"Get out of my damn race!"

Every time a female runner enters a marathon, a small offering should be made to Kathrine Switzer.

No, she isn’t from around here, but since I’m a runner (and female – insert smiley face here) I thought I’d veer off a bit and bring you this story of an amazing and brave athlete. In 1967 Kathrine became the first woman to officially enter and run the Boston Marathon. Her entry (as K. Switzer) created an uproar and worldwide notoriety when a race official was photographed trying to forcibly remove her from the competition.

Fortunately, her football player boyfriend sideswiped the official and Kathrine was able to keep running. Knowing she had so much to prove (the typical thinking then was that running long distances was harmful to women – their uteruses might drop out!) she was determined to finish the race, and said she would crawl on her hands and knees if necessary.

Kathrine Switzer's football player boyfriend pushed aside race official so she could keep running

Kathrine did finish that day and went on to run 34 marathons; in 1974, she won the New York Marathon. Through her tenacity and belief that women too can run 26.2 miles, Kathrine scaled the male bastion of the Boston Marathon that barred women from its race and helped to open its doors to females, which it finally did in 1972. This April 16th will be the 116 edition of this classic marathon.

Kathrine today (from her website kathrineswitzer.com)

Despite the great “strides” that women like Kathrine Switzer made, today in 2012, they are still barriers that face women in sport and athletics. To learn more about them and how you can help change the status quo go to leadingwomeninsport.com, the website for LAWS: Leadership Advancement for Women in Sport, an initiative founded by Dr. Marge Holman of the University of Women’s Human Kinetics Dept.

To learn more about Kathrine Switzer’s amazing story and her important legacy go to kathrineswitzer.com.

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Shovel It: Winter 1930s

A rare wintry scene: our backyard morning of Jan. 15th. The snow melted within a couple of days. (photo by me)

At our house here in wonderful Walkerville, there’s been some debate as to whether we actually used the snow shovel so far this winter of 2011/12. I can recall the comforting drone of a snowblower steered by a thoughtful neighbour passing by our house a couple of early mornings but otherwise, a good sweeping was all it took to free our front steps and sidewalk from the occasional paltry inch or so of snow accumulation.

How different from the “good old days” (notice my eyes rolling?) of a snowpack from December through March – like waaaaay back last year. (Remember the Groundhog Day Blizzard of 2011 when Windsor got over 20 cm of snow? Me neither. I am happy to report that my brain chooses not to remember such dreadful things. If you must you can check out the storm details here.)

On this fourth day of March 2012, I heaved a tentative sigh of relief; we might just emerge into spring relatively unscathed, although one can never be too sure in these here parts until at least half way through April. I decided to do a little “real winter” reminiscing and unearthed from our archives this charming story about anticipating a Windsor spring back in the “dirty thirties”.

Waiting for Spring on the Detroit River

by Al Roach, written during a 1980s Windsor winter.

Raised in Walkerville, Al was an English teacher at Windsor’s Lowe Technical School and wrote for The Windsor Star for 43 years. He authored two books, All Our Memories and All Our Memories 2.

As I sit here gazing across the 40 centimetres of snow, still ensconced truculently on my front lawn, and contemplate the frozen wastes of the Detroit River and Belle Isle, I am only too well aware that winter lingers on.

But Wordsworth’s melodic lines remind me of other days, other years when boisterous boys along the entire length of the mighty Detroit walked to its banks and endeavoured to will the ice away. Tired of winter street games, they used their battered hockey sticks to poke at the ice clinging to the shore and hurry it on its way downstream.

On the coal docks of old Sandwich, on the sloping shores below Bridge Avenue, on the rotting piers at the foot of Bruce, on the rat-infested wharves behind the British-American Hotel, on the ramps of the twin yellow and brown boathouses at the end of Hall Avenue, on the Walkerville Ferry dock, on Pillette Dock, they stood, hands in slash pockets of melton cloth jackets, and longed for spring.

Even as you and I do today.

Sniffing the still wintry atmosphere for the first “blessing in the air” which the poet promised them in their memorized lines. They looked across the icy river at the sweetwater fleet moored along the downtown Detroit waterfront and awaited the first sign of the vernal equinox.

There, all along Atwater Street, from the Grand Trunk Railway depot to the foot of Third Boulevard, each bow nosed in behind the stern of the next vessel upstream, huddled the mighty night boats of yesteryear and the saucy little pleasure boats of our youth.

Wrapped in canvas, paint peeling, awaiting the clarion call of spring, were the famous lake boats, so familiar to boyhood in the 1930s.

The Eastern States, Western States, City of Detroit III, City of Cleveland III, Greater Detroit, Greater Buffalo, the great four-stacker SeeandBee, South American, North American, Tashmoo, Put-in-Bay.

And, of course, the two Bob-Lo boats, Columbia and Ste. Claire – today’s sole survivors of that magnificent fleet whose lights are fled, whose garlands dead and all but they departed.

There was not a boy on the waterfront who could not reel off for you the vital statistics of each of those impressive lake steamers (when launched, what shipyard, length, beam, draught, tonnage, number of passengers and crew) just as boys of today can recite the facts of every make and model of automobile.

And the first sign of spring? Not the first robin. Not for the boys along the Detroit River. Rather it was the day when the work crews began to ready the Great Lakes fleet for its summer activity.

One day the boys would saunter down to the river’s edge and see the canvas being peeled from round the decks of the sleeping giants. Work crews scampering about. Painters slinging hanging scaffolds over the sides.

The great leviathans were shaking off their winter lethargy and blinking in the bright March sunshine.

The river was coming to life.

And suddenly the boys realized that the last of the ice floes had disappeared. The long winter was gone.

Time to begin planning the first dip in the numbing spring waters. (It was a matter of pride to be the first in your neighbourhood to take the plunge. “Heck, ain’t you been in yet? What’re ya waitin’ for?”)

Time to declare unilaterally a school holiday and lie shivering in the cool river breezes back of the coal piles or along the cinders of the railway tracks so as to get the first tan in your area.

Time to start construction of the annual raft (usually built of deliciously creosote-scented used railway ties “donated” by the Canadian National Railways.)

Time to go down and ask Mr. Beard when he would be putting his rowboats in the water. Time to start saving for the rental fee.

Time to start the annual competition to see the first freighter come up the river. (“I saw the Lemoyne come up yesterday.” “You did not. You’re full of hog wash!” “I did too. So there!”)

Time to begin listening in the night for the roar of the “rum-runners,” stabbing across the river in their powerful mahogany inboards, toward Wyandotte or Ecorse, without benefit of lights or law.

But in those early days of March we looked at the river as I do today, and thought that winter would never end.

Be of good cheer, Gentle Reader; we knew then what we know today: paraphrasing Shelley, when mad March days come, spring cannot be far behind. 

And when that first mild day of March finally does arrive, we will take Wordsworth’s advice

And bring no book: for this one day 
We’ll give to idleness.

To read more of Al Roach’s stories, check out our archive website, walkervilletimes.com. If you are looking for a splendid book with lots of old photos of Windsor “then”, get a copy of “Windsor Then” by Chris Edwards and yours truly. Available at Juniper Books on Ottawa Street between Kildare and Argyle, From the Heart Gifts on Ottawa Street just west of Hall, the University of Windsor Bookstore, or online here.

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It’s the REAL McCoy!

In honor of Black History Month, I give you the story of the great locally born inventor – Elijah McCoy.

On either May 2, 1843 or 1844 (depending on the source) a new baby boy was born free in Colchester, Ontario to George McCoy and Mildred Goins. The McCoys were runaway slaves from Kentucky who had arrived in this hamlet about 30 miles south of Windsor via the underground railway.

George McCoy had served honorably in the 1837 Rebel War so the Canadian government had given him 160 acres of farmland near Colchester upon discharge. When Elijah was three, his growing family moved back to the U.S., settling in Detroit, Michigan. He was the third child in a family of twelve children.

As a boy, Elijah showed exceptional mechanical abilities. He attended public school until the age of 15 when his parents, (even though his God-fearing father may not have understood his interest) saved the money to send him to Edinburgh, Scotland to pursue a Mechanical Engineering apprenticeship. This was at a time when it was difficult for blacks to obtain the same kind of training in the United States of America.

Elijah returned just after the Civil War  and the beginning of the “Emancipation Proclamation.” He applied for an engineering position with Michigan Central Railroad but management could not imagine that a “Negro” could be an engineer.

He was offered the position of locomotive fireman. Elijah’s job was to shovel coal into the fires that heated the water in the boilers that ran the engine. He shoveled over two tons of coal into the firebox every hour! His job was hot, difficult, and dangerous. He also did the job of train oilman.

One of the problems of hot, high pressure steam is that it is murderously corrosive of most metals, and a thin film of lubrication is required to protect and seal the steam cylinders and pistons. At that time, trains needed to periodically stop and be lubricated, to prevent overheating, which Elijah noticed was expensive and wasted a lot of time.

Elijah was also alarmed by the injuries and deaths caused when workers attempted to lubricate moving machinery. Many of these workers were young black boys employed in the position because they were small and agile.

In a home-based machine shop in Ypsilanti, Michigan, McCoy carried out his own higher skilled work, developing improvements and inventions. His tinkering led to an invention that would not only change his life, it would save lives and serve to advance the industrial age significantly: a lubricator for steam engines that did not require the machinery to stop. His lubricator used steam pressure to pump oil wherever it was needed, even while the machine was working. It was soon used on engines and train locomotives, on Great Lakes steamships, on ocean liners, and on machinery in factories.

Elijah’s Improvements on Lubricators for Steam Engines was patented in 1872 in the United States  US patent #129,843 and in 1874 in Canada.

The drip cup device was so effective and so highly regarded that other manufacturers copied it. However, none worked as well as McCoy’s invention. No engine or machine was considered complete until it had a McCoy Lubricator. One theory as to where the expression “The Real McCoy” originated is that railroad engineers looking to avoid inferior copies would request it by name,[4] and inquire if a locomotive was fitted with “the real McCoy system”. The phrase “real McCoy” soon caught on as a way of saying that people were getting the very best equipment available.

The Michigan Central Railroad promoted McCoy to an instructor in the use of his new inventions. Later, he became a consultant to the railroad industry on patent matters. By 1923 Elijah was known throughout the world. His inventions were also patented in Great Britain, France, Germany, Austria, and Russia.

In all, he was issued more than 57 patents for his inventions during his lifetime including a folding ironing board and a lawn sprinkler.

In 1868, Elijah McCoy married Ann Elizabeth Stewart who unfortunately, died four years later. In 1873 he married his second wife, Mary Eleanora Delaney. (Click on her name to learn more about this fascinating woman. I wish I could find a photo of her, but I can’t.) They moved to Detroit when he found work there. Mary McCoy was one of the founders of the Phillis Wheatley Home for Aged Colored Men in 1898. The couple did not have children.

In 1920, McCoy opened his own company, the Elijah McCoy Manufacturing Company. Like so many other inventors of this era, Elijah used up his money trying to perfect his inventions. Unfortunately, he suffered in his later years, enduring a financial, mental, and physical breakdown.

Elijah died in Detroit on October 10, 1929 at the age of 86 from senile dementia caused by hypertension after spending a year in the Eloise Infirmary (also known as the Michigan State Asylum) in Michigan. He had continued to suffer from injuries from a car accident in 1922 in which his wife Mary died.

He was buried at Detroit Memorial Park East in Warren, Michigan.[14]

Today, Elijah’s lubrication processes are still used in machinery such as cars, locomotives, ships, rockets and many other machines. He is credited with having helped modernize the industrial world with his inventions.

So next time you say, “Yup, it’s the real McCoy” you’ll know why.







A play based on Elijah’s life, “The Real McCoy”, written and directed by Andrew Moodie, ran in St. Louis, Missouri in 2011.

Read more: http://www.stltoday.com/entertainment/arts-and-theatre/huggy-bear-returns-to-the-stage-in-real-mccoy/article_1bb87418-c190-5a1d-b630-bb886c061eb8.html#ixzz1mCB8KX00

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Winter in Walkerville: 1900s

cold enough for ya?

So, we finally got some snow that is actually staying on the ground more than a couple of hours. Since winter appears to have officially arrived, I thought I would post some photos I’ve been saving for a snowy day. Sent to me by Charlie Fox they provide a fascinating peek at how the women of Walkerville faced the long cold winters in the early 1900s. Charlie’s mom stands in the centre in the bottom photo.

These ladies either lived on Monmouth Road (bottom photo was taken in the backyard of one of the row houses that still stand today, thank goodness) or nearby.

Having lived in one of those old Monmouth row houses before it was renovated, I know all too well that the only source of heat was in the dining room. Every morning there would be ice in the bath tub. (Seriously.) I carried a Kero-Sun heater around the house to try to make up for the lack of central heating (and electric light).

I can’t help but wonder whether these women wore their furs indoors as well as outdoors.

Stay warm everyone!

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Dish Nights at The Palace Theatre

Walkerville's Tivoli Theatre in its heyday

Ah, the irony. The deal the city made to bring the University of Windsor’s music and visual arts departments downtown to create a cultural hub triggered the closing of the Palace Theatre. In case you missed the news flash, some of the changes taking place involve The Windsor Star building being taken over by the University while the theatre space will be occupied by The Windsor Star.

The Palace’s last shows will be shown Sunday, January 8, 2012. (I’m planning to go.) Once the theatre’s doors are closed for good, Windsor will witness the end of the “neighbourhood” cinema house. It’s really hard to believe that back in the good old days (see, that isn’t just an overused expression… in this case, they were really good), every business district in Windsor had at least one  theatre: The Empire, The Centre, The Kent, The Park, The Tivoli, are just a few that come to mind.

I, for one, will definitely miss the Palace. Not only was it conveniently located for inner city denizens like me, you couldn’t beat the price of tickets. And, I liked the fact that you could go have dinner or a drink before or after the show, at one of several fine restaurants and lounges within walking distance. And guess what? I never had trouble finding parking.

With the future of nearby Capitol Theatre still unclear (after five long years! Don’t get me started.) I hope that more movies will be offered in the playhouse to pick up the slack. A person can dream, can’t they?

Just over a decade ago, Stan Scislowski, a regular contributor to our local history publication, The Walkerville Times, sent in an intriguing story about some of the gimmicks local theatres used during the depression years of the 1930s to lure people into the Palace and Tivoli Theatres.

For your reading pleasure, I give you…

Anybody Got a Soup Ladle?

by Stan Scislowski

If you happen to be one of that dwindling segment of the local society that grew up during the “hungry thirties”, then you’ll probably remember when they held ‘Dish Nights’ at a couple of the local movie houses: the Tivoli in Walkerville and the Palace downtown.

To get people into the movie theatres on the slower weekdays, the managers dreamed up the idea of giving a dish to all adult ticket holders, with a different dish being given each week. It turned out to be one good way to get the mothers out of the house for a spell, and at the same time stock the family cupboard with a set of good dishes.

And they were good, dishes too or so I’ve been told.

And then there were those zany Auction Nights held at the Palace Theatre when people flocked to the show carrying all kinds of junk, bric-a-brac and household items in brown paper bags, in burlap bags, in their pockets and purses, hoping the emcee or auctioneer would call for them.

The auction went as follows: At the intermission between the feature movie and the ‘B’ movie, the auctioneer on the stage would call out something like this: I’ll pay fifty cents for a corkscrew. Anybody in the audience have a corkscrew?

If you happened to have one, you hollered out: “Okay, Palace!” and the first one to do so, ran up the aisle to exchange the item for a shiny fifty-cent piece. (We called them half bucks). And then he might offer a whole dollar for a bottle of ink, or a chisel, or a “Big Little Book”.

Some of the stuff he asked for you wouldn’t think anybody’d have the presence of mind to bring along. But darned if they didn’t. Unbelievable! Hilarious too!

What pains some people took to make a buck or two. But you couldn’t really blame them. After all, a buck went a long way in those lean days.

Here’s a few of the items I remember people bringing in: a hot-water bottle; a thimble; a spool of thread, a soup ladle, a darning-needle, a cork, a bottle-opener— yes, and even a coat-hanger. You name it, someone had it.

We might not have had TV in those days, and a lot of people didn’t even have radios, but there were all kinds of other ways to have fun, to push back the cares and concerns of those hard-scrabble days. To tell you the truth, more so than there are today.

Or so I like to think.


Perhaps I’ll bring a corkscrew and a spool of thread with me when I head to the Palace, for old time’s sake. 

sadly yours,

History Babe

(to read more of Stan’s stories, go to walkervilletimes.com.)

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When Windsor Got Its Wings

You may have read the fascinating account of a very rare ticket which was hidden in a Windsor home. Kevin Malott was renovating his basement last weekend when he discovered an 83-year-old admission ticket to the grand opening of Walker Airport in 1928. In case you missed it, you can read about his unusual find here.

Here’s a story we ran in 2003 to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Windsor Airport. (Man, how time “flies” – another milestone coming up next year!)

Getting Off the Ground

On December 17, 1903, two young bicycle mechanics from South Carolina built and successfully flew a plane at Kitty Hawk. The flight wasn’t much –12 seconds, 120 feet – but it was the first controlled, sustained flight in a heavier-than-air craft. Orville and Wilbur Wright had changed the world forever.

25 years later, the collective dream of several local WWI vets for Windsor to have its own airport became a reality. In this special edition of The TIMES magazine, we present to you a fascinating look at the early days of local flight as well as the birth and evolution of Windsor Airport. Many of our readers contributed their own personal memories of the airport, planes and flying as well as wonderful photographs.

Hard to believe that just 41 years after our airport opened, three men flew through space all the way to the moon.

Fleet Finches bi-planes were lined up every day at Windsor Airport for WWII pilots-in-training. (Photo courtesy Hester Curtis)

When the Wright brothers finally proved that flight was possible, people flew planes purely for sport. But soon after the outbreak of World War I in 1914, military planners realized that airplanes could be useful in warfare and even influence the outcome of the war.

In 1915, soldiers witnessed the first effective use of new weapons of war, including the airplane, the tank, and the submarine. Soon the skies over battlefields were filled with blimps, planes, and tethered balloons. The rapid evolution of aircraft during World War I was profound and unmatched by any other advancement at the time. From reconnaissance to bombing, the use of airplanes in the war became a necessity and by the end of the war airplanes and pilots had earned the respect they deserved. By 1918 planes had become a symbol of fear – and victory.

Sprouting Wings

In 1920, two years after the end of the “war to end all wars,” a local group of Royal Air Force veterans formed the Border Cities Aero Club in remembrance of their wartime service. This association was the first and oldest group in Canada to be granted a charter as a member of the Royal Canadian Flying Clubs Association.

Flying drew the interest of many in the border cities; in 1919 a crowd had gathered near a large field at the corner of Howard Avenue and Tecumseh Road to go on flying trips in Universal Company planes, piloted by Lieut. Charles Stocking, a famous U.S. military aviator.

An Aviation Committee of the Border Cities (Windsor, Sandwich, Walkerville, Ford City and East Windsor) Chamber of Commerce was organized in 1924 to explore the construction of a landing field and the development of an aircraft industry. Far-sighted committee members believed that when commercial flying became practical in Canada, an established local business organization should be in existence to promote aviation in this community.

The successful New York to Paris flight of Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh (May 20 – 21,1927) electrified the entire world. His solo non-stop flight across the Atlantic took him 33 hours and 19 minutes. No other event in aero history had captured the imagination and admiration of so many. It served to inspire eager flyers ready to follow him into the skies.

The Royal Windsor: no ocean crossing (damn!)
(Photo courtesy Walter Ritchie)

In Windsor, local aviation enthusiasts decided to promote their own non-stop, trans-Atlantic flight – from Windsor, Canada to Windsor, England. In September 1927, American Phil Wood and Duke Schiller, a pilot in the Ontario Provincial Air Service, began their flight from a field near Walker Road. The pair flew the “Royal Windsor,” a Stinson-Detroiter monoplane for about a week before bad weather and mechanical breakdowns forced them to give up their attempt.

Despite its failure to reach England, the Royal Windsor expedition sparked considerable interest in local aviation. The unique geographical position of the Border Cities stirred the belief that this community could rapidly become the airplane manufacturing and the aviation centre of Canada, especially since it was already at the epicentre of the booming auto industry.

A branch of the Aviation League of Canada soon formed and the Chamber Aviation Committee was enlarged to include Aero Club workers and officers with a mandate to establish an aerodrome (airport) in the community.

Walker Airport

Their efforts were greatly assisted by the generosity of Harrington Walker and Hiram H. Walker (offspring of Hiram Walker who had died in 1899) who managed the Walkerville Land and Building Company (a wholly owned company of Hiram Walker’s & Sons Distillery).

The company was petitioned by local aviation enthusiasts for permission to rent a field in their Walker Farms holdings for flying activities. The Walker’s responded by providing a tract of land ideally located at the edge of town for a period of five years, free of rent, in addition to a gift of $10,000 to be used in assisting with the building of the hangar. The township of Sandwich East exempted the property from taxes with the exception of local improvement and school taxes.

The dream of a local airport became a reality when Walker Airport officially opened on September 8, 1928. White-painted planks two feet wide and 24 feet long marked the perimeter of the field. A rotating beacon was installed and the roof of the hangar was painted in large squares of alternating colour. Barrels of oil were set up for lighting to illuminate the runway during poor weather or for night landings. In the centre of the field was a square enclosed in a circle painted white which designated it as a port of entry for Canada Customs during daylight hours.

Grand Opening: Walker Airport 1928
(Photo courtesy David Newman)

The grand opening ceremonies featured parachute drops, exhibition flying, and an Essex County air derby – Canada’s first air competition. The Puritan, a Goodrich blimp, arrived amid much excitement – the first such craft to land at the airport.

The following day marked the start of Canada’s first international air race. Five planes flew out of Walker Airport bound for Los Angeles, competing for more than $10,000. A pilot from London, Ontario was declared the technical winner when his plane was the only one to reach Omaha, Nebraska before the 4-day deadline.

The early years of the Depression, and a disastrous fire in 1930 – which destroyed aircraft and equipment – created much hardship for the Border Cities Aero Club. The legality of its agreement with the Walker estate, to whom they paid a dollar a year for the land, was challenged by Sandwich East Township, since the club was exempt from paying taxes to the township. When the flying club could not pay up the township seized the property. In 1931, the Walker estate redeemed the land.

The flying club managed to keep operating with the help of Roy Patterson, who continued to lease the land. Things greatly improved in 1933 when John Canfield rented the airport and became its manager. Canfield and his wife, Mary, both flying instructors, were a colourful pair and attracted many new fliers to the airport. Known to many as “Windsor’s Father of Aviation,” Canfield developed an ambitious plan to expand the airport in 1936.

Despite several years of success in flight training, the financial impact of the Depression was staggering. Like so many other businesses in the area, the club became insolvent and in late 1938, Leavens Bros. of Toronto leased the airport. The new company moved in personnel, aircraft and established its own flight training school. The Border Cities Aero Club continued to exist only as a social organization.

WW II and Expansion

You can read the rest of Windsor Airport’s first 75 years on our site: walkervilletimes.com. Please click here.

Top photos, clockwise from top left: a 1930s mailplane; a 1930s Border City Aero Club pin awarded to flyers who passed their flying test; BCAC president Norman Reynolds and Evelyn Elmquist of Detroit at the annual “Pilots’ Prom,” February, 1939; Walker Airport hangar; local pilot Ruth St. Louis (nee Gooby); centre photo taken during comedian/actor Bob Hope’s visit to Windsor’s No. 7 Early Flying Training School in 1943. Bob Hope (centre) stands with Flight Sgt. Haddon (possibly on wing behind him) and three employees of the airport, Earl, Gorno and Scotty.
(montage by Chuck Rees, Walkerville Publishing)

Story Sources

Wright Brothers History: The Tale of the Airplane, A Brief Account of the Invention of the Airplane, researched, written, and designed by Gary Bradshaw http://www.wam.umd.edu/~stwright/WrBr/Wrights.html
The Story of Aviation in Essex County, 1920 to 1992 by E. M. Robinson, June, 1992
Souvenir Program, Official Opening, Walker Airport, 1928, Border Cities Star
A Sod Patch That Grew, Sharon Hill, The Windsor Star, September 8, 1985
On Great White Wings – The Wright Brothers and the Race for Flight, Fred E. C. Culick and Spencer Dunmore, Madison Press Books, 2001
Special thanks to Charles E. Fox, Walter Ritchie, Ralph Howling and Hester Curtis.

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Floating Toast and other Random New Year’s Eve Tidbits

Celebrating New Year's underwater: Jan. 1, 1953, Rainbow Springs, Florida (From the Florida State Library and Archives flickr photostream)

Ringing in the New Year? Just what does that mean? My guess is church bells ringing on the stroke of midnight. Do church bells still ring in Windsor? They will be in Dublin, Ireland, and people from around the world will be logging on to the Net to witness to witness that city’s Christ Church Cathedral’s historic ringing of the bells. 

Making a resolution?

So why and when did this habit start? With the beginning of a whole new year to start over, I guess many of us take it as a golden opportunity to remake some aspect of ourselves. Modern resolutions might include the promise to lose weight or quit smoking, while early Babylonian’s most popular resolution was to return borrowed farm equipment. (This resolution seems to have been picked up by Dagwood Bumstead who always seems to be returning his neighbour’s lawn mower.) Resolutions are definitely easier to make than keep.

Watching the Rose Bowl game on New Year’s Day?

The Tournament of Roses Parade dates back to 1886. In that year, members of the Valley Hunt Club decorated their carriages with flowers to celebrate the ripening of the orange crop in California. Although the Rose Bowl football game was first played as a part of the Tournament of Roses in 1902, it was replaced by Roman chariot races the following year. In 1916, the football game returned.

So what’s up with the baby?

The tradition of using a baby to signify the New Year was begun in Greece around 600 BC. It was their tradition at that time to celebrate their god of wine, Dionysus, by parading a baby in a basket, representing the annual rebirth of that god as the spirit of fertility. Although the early Christians denounced the practice as pagan, the popularity of the baby as a symbol of rebirth forced the Church to reevaluate its position. The Church finally allowed its members to celebrate the New Year with a baby, which was to symbolize the birth of the baby Jesus.

The Germans brought the use of an image of a baby with a New Year’s banner as a symbolic representation of the New Year to early America. They had used the effigy since the 14th century.

Feeling lucky? 

Traditionally, it was thought that one could affect the luck they would have throughout the coming year by what they did or ate on the first day of the year. For that reason, it has become common for folks to celebrate the first few minutes of a brand new year in the company of family and friends. Parties often last into the middle of the night after the ringing in of a new year. It was once believed that the first visitor on New Year’s Day would bring either good luck or bad luck the rest of the year. It was particularly lucky if that visitor happened to be a tall dark-haired man.

Traditional New Year foods are also thought to bring luck. Many cultures believe that anything in the shape of a ring is good luck, because it symbolizes “coming full circle,” completing a year’s cycle. For that reason, the Dutch believe that eating donuts on New Year’s Day will bring good fortune. (Note: My friend Bonnie things maybe this was how the term “Ringing in the New Year” started.)

Many parts of the U.S. celebrate the New Year by consuming black-eyed peas and they are typically accompanied by either hog jowls or ham. The hog, and thus its meat, is considered lucky because it symbolizes prosperity. Cabbage is another “good luck” vegetable that is consumed on New Year’s Day by many. Cabbage leaves are also considered a sign of prosperity, being representative of paper currency. In some regions, rice is a lucky food that is eaten on New Year’s Day.

A Toast?!

One of the most venerable New Year’s traditions is the Champagne toast at midnight to ring in the New Year. Toasting can be traced back to the ancient Romans and Greeks who would pour wine, to be shared among those attending a religious function, from a common pitcher. The host would drink first, to assure his guests that the wine was not poisoned. Poisoning the wine was a fairly common practice in ancient times, designed to do away with one’s enemies. In those days the wine was not as refined as it is today so a square of burned bread (toast) would be floated in the wine bowl and then eaten by the last person to drink. The bread was put there to absorb the extra acidity of the wine in order to make it more palatable. Eventually, the act of drinking in unison came to be called a toast

What on earth do those words mean?

The song, “Auld Lang Syne” is sung at the stroke of midnight in almost every English-speaking country in the world to bring in the New Year. At least partially written by Robert Burns in the 1700s, it was first published in 1796 after Burns’ death. Early variations of the song were sung prior to 1700 and inspired Burns to produce the modern rendition. An old Scottish tune, “Auld Lang Syne” literally means “old long ago,” or simply, “the good old days.” The lyrics can be found here.

However you celebrate, (above or below water) and whatever resolutions you make (and hopefully keep) I hope you all enjoy a SAFE and happy New Year’s Eve.

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‘Tis Much Better to Give.

Snow doesn't slow down activity in Windsor's downtown (early 1950s)

Yes, it’s always better to give at Christmas than receive. At least, that’s how I feel. (And what better justification for going shopping?!)

If you are STILL looking for that perfect gift, take heart. On Friday, Dec. 23rd, from 11 to 5, there will be a special sale of our book, “Windsor Then – a pictorial essay of Windsor, Ontario’s glorious past”, which contains over 130 beautiful images of Windsor between approximately 1860 – 1960, at Juniper Books, 1990 Ottawa Street, (between Kildare and Argyle, 519-258-4111, from 11 am – 5 pm). The author, Chris Edwards, and I (his faithful editor) will be on hand to personally sign books.

At $20 a book (and free lovely bookmark!) we think the past is the perfect present. (Especially the hard to buy for like mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, your in-laws, your boss, the neighbour who looks after your cat when you’re away, etc.)

Now, here’s my gift to you: a wonderful Christmas story that was submitted to our former publication, “The Times Magazine” about ten years ago by the late Al Roach who some of you may remember as your teacher, or from his writing at the Windsor Star. He was also the author of several books.

His story is timeless, beautiful and heartfelt. I hope you enjoy it.

A Christmas Story

by Al Roach

Clem had exactly two dollars left. All of his presents were purchased except for one. Did I want to go downtown with him on Christmas Eve to buy that one last gift?

We decided to save the nickel bus fare each way and walk from Walkerville. It was a beautiful evening: clear, snow on the ground, temperature hovering around ten degrees Fahrenheit. Our shadows walked along with us, first behind, then overtaking us and extending out in front as we passed each yellowish streetlight.

We reached the corner of Wyandotte and Ouellette where in a field across the street, a sign proclaimed that a bank would be built there as a post-war project. Ouellette was alive with joyful last-minute shoppers.

We turned north and walked along the eastside toward the river. The wind was developing a bite and I adjusted the metal band over my brown fur earmuffs, drawing them closer to the sides of my head. My feet slipped on lumpy snow, hard-packed by hundreds of shoppers’ boots.

“Where is this angel, anyway?” I asked.

“At Bartlet, Macdonald and Gow.”

“It would be!”

Almost to Sandwich Street (Riverside Drive)! I pulled my woolen jacket up tighter around my throat and leaned into the wind. We passed Meretsky and Gitlin Furniture, the Tea Garden Restaurant, John Webb Jewellers.

Despite wartime shortages, shop windows displayed a tempting variety of gifts “for her” and “for him”, all competing for space with crossed Union Jacks, signs exhorting us to “Buy British” and purchase Dominion of Canada Victory Bonds, and others reminding us that “Loose Lips Sink Ships”.

We approached the Fleetway Tunnel exit. Across the street was Liddy and Taylor Men’s Wear, the store where Clem and I spent some of the dollars we earned, working Saturdays (for 40 cents per hour) at the A&P on Ottawa Street, to outfit ourselves for the return to school each fall.

We were surprised to see the newsstand at the tunnel exit open so late in the evening. The headlines were always the same in those days: success and disasters for the Allied armed forces on land, at sea and in the air, but inside, the comics were still there. War or no war, Li’l Abrner was wrestling for a gun with the four-armed Mr. Armstrong, Brick Bradford was championing the weak against the strong, and Caps Stubbs remained the quintessence of boyhood.

In that festive season, all the papers, including The Windsor Daily Star and The Detroit Times were carrying Clement C. Moore’s “The Night Before Christmas”. And, assuring eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon that, yes, there is a Santa Claus, as they had done every year since the editorial first appeared in the New York Sun in 1897.

Light snow began to fall, powdering our hair and eyelashes, tickling our noses.

“What are you going to do with this angel, anyway,” I asked.

“Put it on the top of the tree, of course. It’s a beautiful white satin ornament with gold hair and all that. I’m going to put it up there tonight when everyone’s asleep – a kind of surprise for my mother. She’s wanted one since the cat got the old one last year. Top of the tree looks bare without an angel.”

We crossed Park Street, passing the Prince Edward Hotel. Through the revolving doors and down the steps came a live angel in a white satin evening gown; Persian lamb coat and dangling silver earrings, her escort in black coat with velvet collar and fringed white silk scarf. They tiptoed their way (she holding her gown up with one dainty hand) over the icy sidewalk and into the waiting checkered cab.

There was to be a New Year’s Eve dance in the Prince Eddy ballroom. Matti Holli’s Orchestra. Three dollars per person. Clem and I would not be there. If we could scrape up the price of admission, we’d likely take our girlfriends ice skating at the arena “to the music of Ralph Ford at the electric organ.”

Moments later we passed the Canada Building where Sid Tarleton and his St. Mary’s Church Boys’ Choir had made their annual appearance at 9 a.m. that day, leading the building’s tenants in singing Christmas carols. An old tradition.

Across the street was the beautiful new building of Birks-Ellis-Ryri (successors to McCreery’s). We remembered the original McCreery’s Jewellery Store, located in the Prince Eddy.

A stubby little Sandwich, Windsor and Amherstburg Railway Ford bus crunched by, throwing dirty snow on our trouser legs. The Fords were among the first buses purchased after the streetcars were junked in 1939.

Ads in this day’s Star, signed by W.H. Furlong, K.C., chairman of the S.W. & A., and F. X. Chauvin, vice-chairman, thanked Windsorites for their patience. The buses were badly overloaded, what with wartime workers and Christmas shoppers vying for standing room in the aisles. Maybe they should have kept the old reliable streetcars.

We passed Honey Dew Limited, which served the best orange drink in town, and looked across Ouellette at the sparkling windows of old established retailers such as Burton the Tailor, Esquire Men’s Shop and George W. Wilkinson Limited. (Four decades into the future, these locations will be occupied by One Plus One Ladies’ Wear, Jeanne Bruce Limited Jewellers and Chateau 333 respectively,)

In front of the five-story Wilkinson’s store (“Wilkinson’s Shoes Wear like a Pig’s Nose”) stood a Salvation Army lass in her quaint bonnet with the big ribbon. Her little hand bell sounded somehow shy, matching her sad eyes.

An idea. “Why don’t you give your two dollars to the Sally Ann?” I suggested. “It’s Christmas Eve, you know.”

“Bah! Humbug!” replied Clem in his best Dickens’ manner. “Charity begins at home.”

At the Palace, Cecil B. DeMille’s The Sign of the Cross was playing. Starring Frederic March, Claudette Colbert and Charles Laughton.

Across London Street (University), past Stuart Stores for Men, the Singer Sewing Machine Store, C.R. Wickens and Son Tobacconist and Gift shop, across Chatham Street, Wright’s Butcher Shop, Grinnell’s Music Shop (piano’s, sheet music, radios, records”), John A. Jackson Limited Men’s Wear, the Star Restaurant, across Pitt Street, past the Canada Trust Company on the northeast corner.

As we went by the C.H. Smith Company store, we saw a small boy standing in front of Bartlet’s, staring at something in the window. We recognized him; we’d seen him many times selling magazines to the drunks coming out of The Ritz and B.A. Hotels at Ouellette and Sandwich. He must have lived over one of the stores in those old run-down, three-storey brick buildings on Sandwich. Not exactly Willistead Crescent.

Shiny black hair. Big, staring brown eyes. He was looking at a black lace shawl with a $5 ticket on it. A lot of money in those days.

Clem’s pace slackened, reduced to a crawl, and came to a stop. Silence. The boy turned as if to leave.

“Nice shawl, kid,” said Clem.

A pair of brown eyes looked at him innocently. A bit perplexed.

“Uh huh.” A pause.

“How much money do you have?”

Again the artless eyes stared at Clem, taking him in, registering no emotion. Another pause.

“Three dollars.”

Three dollars, I thought. Three dollars earned the hard way. Long hours after school on that pavement in front of the two hotels, just up the hill from the old Detroit, Windsor and Belle Isle Ferry Company dock. Long weeks, maybe months, of selling magazines at a profit of two cents per sale. Always thinking about the black lace shawl.

This, I decided, is going to be interesting. I leaned back against a lamppost to watch closely. “Think of that,” I said. “He’s two dollars short. Now that’s quite a coincidence.”

Clem gave me a why-don’t-you-mind-your-own-damn-business look. Another pause. Clem looking at the boy. Boy looking back, wondering what was coming next. Me looking at Clem.

Finally: “Look, kid, take this two bucks and go in and buy the shawl and don’t ask any questions.”

A minute later we were looking into the store, watching the perfumed saleslady wrapping the shawl in a Christmassy box. A pair of brown eyes watching her every move. Five-dollar bills scrunched up in a grubby hand resting on the sparkling glass counter.

Another minute later and he was out of the store, dashing around the corner and heading west on Sandwich Street. He disappeared into a south side doorway near Fifth Brothers Tailor Shop and the Taylor Furniture Company.

I thought a certain mother was going to be very happy on Christmas morning.

We turned back down Ouellette Avenue. In silence. We stopped at the traffic light at Chatham. The snow was falling heavier now, coating the scene in fresh holiday white. I looked sideways at Clem.

“I thought charity begins at home,” I grinned.

“You can just shut up,” he said.

But I couldn’t get over the feeling that Clem would not need his satin angel. A far more substantial one would be shining down on him on Christmas morning.

More of Al Roach’s classic stories of Windsor can be found on our website: walkervilletimes.com.

If you can’t make the sale at Juniper Books this Friday, you can also purchase books at From the Heart Gifts on Ottawa St. near Hall, the Art Gallery of Windsor Gift Shop, the University of Windsor Bookstore, Unique Books & Gifts in Essex, Page 233 in Amherstburg or from us in Walkerville. Call us at 255-9527 or email elaine@walkerville.com.

I hope you have the merriest of Christmases!

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Someone Yell Fire!? 63rd Anniversary of Adelman’s Inferno

Joan of Arc? Windsor firemen seem more intent on dousing the 1948 Adelman's Dept. Store fire

Remember Adelman’s Department Store in downtown Windsor? I do – sort of, but there are plenty of people who recall this beloved, long gone department store, (along with Smith’s), practically with tears in their eyes.

When my husband and partner Chris Edwards located the bizarre photo above, (which he intends to include in our latest book: “500 Ways You Know You’re From Windsor” to be released spring 2012), I knew it was a blog waiting to happen.

There wasn’t much info to go with photo – just the year (1948) and location. My guess (which might be why one firefighter was looking at the camera) is the mannequin was placed against the pole purposely.

In an effort to unravel this little mystery, some digging on-line led me to discover that today, Dec. 14th, just happens to be the 63rd anniversary the fire that ravaged the store.

Another view of the Adelman's fire (from the Windsor Fire & Rescue Services website)

According to Jill Kanwischer, Administrative Assistant at Windsor Fire & Rescue Services, (windsorfire.com) who was good enough to check the records for me today, an overheated furnace was the cause and the estimated loss was $101,249.85. Apparently, the building was a “total loss”.

Since I also learned that Adelman’s shut its doors in March of 1979, I imagine the building was rebuilt or the store was relocated. Perhaps a kind reader or two can fill in a few details for me, especially about the crazy photo above.

So far we have gathered approximately 475 photos of iconic places from 1945 to 2000 Windsorites remember that will be featured in the book. We want an even 500.

Photos we are still looking for:

Biff’s Coffee Shop
Woolworths on Ouellette Avenue
Kresges Department Store
The Nut House
Metropolitan Explosion – 1960
Epps at the north end of Pelissier at Chatham Street
the giant Ice Cream Cone building in the westend
The original A&Ws

If you or someone you know have any snapshots or slides you could share with us of these places, please contact me: elaine@walkerville.com, or call Chris at Walkerville Publishing: 519-255-9527.

(Our latest local history book, “Windsor Then – a pictorial essay of Windsor’s Glorious Past” is currently available at many area locations. For information go to walkerville.com.)

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Remembering a Jinxed Motorcycle Club

A few years ago, Windsorite Dave MacRae posted a news clipping on our Facebook site, “Windsor Ontario Then” detailing the tragic story of his Uncle Jack MacRae who was a member of a local motorcycle club called The Throttle Twisters. His parents, Sadie and Archie MacRae,  were also members of the jinxed club but lived to tell the tale. 

Dave's mom Sadie MacRae (love this photo!!) taken in Windsor 1950

Dave's dad, Archie MacRae. Cool hat! ( taken in Windsor 1950)

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Once Upon a Time: Windsor 1860-1960 (ish)

This isn’t a mirage. This is how Ouellette Avenue once looked as seen from the deck of a Detroit/Windsor ferry boat around 1910. An array of trolley cars, horses, and bicycles, along with children, women in their summer finery, and dapper looking gentlemen going about their business.

Today, one sees a far different scene. The ferries are gone, as are the trollies, the horses and virtually all the buildings. The contrast is shocking really.

If you feel like doing a little time travelling today, come to the Olde Walkerville Holiday Walk Saturday, Nov. 19th, from 11:30 to 5. You’ll find a Flapper (that would be me) in the lobby of Refine Fitness, (once part of the O’Neill-Bernhardt Building) and if you so desire you may purchase your very own copy of “Windsor Then – a pictorial essay of Windsor, Ontario’s glorious past”. I would be most happy to sign it for you.


History Babe.

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Walkerville Landmark Bombed!

Once upon a time, war reared its ugly head right in the heart of Walkerville, Canadian Club whiskey founder, Hiram Walker’s peaceful and thriving company town. In 1915, a business was targeted by a group of dangerous fanatics. Hiram had been dead for 16 years, but no doubt his sons and grandsons, who were running Hiram Walker’s & Sons, as well as the town, were shaking in their boots.

The Peabody Building is seen behind Hiram Walker's Walkerville train station (demolished) in this 1940s image

Former Walkerville student Currie Bednarick investigated this shocking event to write “Walkerville Landmark Bombed”, which ran in our annual “Why We Must Remember” November 2001 issue of “The Walkerville Times.”

The Peabody Building, once located on the southwest corner of Riverside and Devonshire, was a Walkerville landmark for many years. Situated beside the Peabody bridge, the familiar complex was the home of many companies and associations over the years, despite the attack it endured during World War I close to a century ago.

The building first housed the Peabody Leather Label Overall Company, which produced the famous Peabody brand overalls, known by the shiny buckles on their shoulder straps. During World War I, the company manufactured uniforms for the British Army. The company had only been in business a few years when American-based German sympathizers tried to blow up the building at 3 a.m. on June 21, 1915.

The sympathizers placed a bomb in a hole under the building, next to the old wooden Peabody Bridge. The framework on one side of the bridge was blown away, and the other side was twisted and bent; the concrete crumbled to powder. The force of the explosion also was strong enough to blow out every window in the building. Some of the window sashes also broke and a few sills snapped. There were no reports of injury to anyone in the vicinity.

Repairs were made, and the building went on to live a long life, becoming the starting place of several companies. RPScherer, which produced gelatin for pharmaceutical companies, occupied the building for several years, as well as Butcher Engineering Enterprises, Lorence Enterprises, Reid Industries, and the McCord Corporation. The building also provided space for Junior Achievement of Windsor.

The Peabody Building was demolished in 1985, while the neighbouring Walker Power Building was spared [and still stands today].

Read more about the company town of Walkerville and its visionary founder, Hiram Walker, in this story on our archive site, walkervilletimes.com: A Walkerville Snapshot: 1913. 

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How did they play in those outfits? Women’s Basketball 1905

Looking more like they’re wearing dancing clothes than basketball uniforms, the eight members of Windsor Collegiate Institute’s (later Patterson Collegiate) 1905 girls’ basketball team pose jauntily on the school steps. WCI was located on Goyeau Avenue in downtown Windsor. The only identified team member is Florence Northwood (bottom left).

Their coaches/teachers, including Norah Cleary (at right), appear on the top step. Norah was the daughter of noted Windsor lawyer Francis Cleary (Windsor’s Cleary Auditorium – now the St. Clair College downtown campus — was named in his memory).

Basketball, introduced around the turn of the century, was the most popular sport for girls in high school and was likely their first chance to participate in an active sport requiring some exertion. Invented in 1891 by James Naismith, a Canadian teaching physical education at the YMCA Training College in Springfield, Massachusetts, it was designed to help keep his young male students in shape between the football and baseball seasons. The game was taken up almost immediately by girls in a nearby school and soon spread to women’s colleges and YWCAs throughout the U.S.

Norah Cleary taught French and Physical Culture to her female students at Windsor Collegiate. She introduced basketball to them after sending away for a ball and rulebook advertised by the Spalding Sporting Goods Company. Her girls became so good at the game they began traveling to Detroit to play other teams.

Women’s basketball has certainly come a long way since these early days. Long gone are the hot, uncomfortable “uniforms” and the calibre of the players has grown by leaps and bounds. The University of Windsor’s women’s basketball team, coached by Chantal Vallée, won their third CIS (Canadian Inter-University Sports) championship in a row in 2013.

But gaining the right to play sports of their choosing has not been an easy slam dunk for women. Women were excluded from the Olympics in track and field competition until 1928. The longest race at the time was the 800 meters and despite a world record by the winner, many of the competitors were not properly prepared and several collapsed in exhaustion. This led Olympic organizers to consider the race too strenuous for women and the president of the IOC even suggested the elimination of all women’s competition from the Games.

Such a drastic move was not taken, but it wasn’t until 1960 that races over 200 meters were once again contested by women in the Olympics. In 1984, local athlete, Dr. Andrea Conlon Steen, made it to the semi-finals in the 400 Meter Hurdles—the first time women were “allowed” to compete in that event at the Olympics.

Female ski jumpers were barred from participating in every Winter Olympics and had to go to court to win the right to compete. 2014 was the first time we saw Olympian women soar off the jumps. The 2015 Pan Am Games are being held in Toronto. Canoeing has been added as a new event, but it took a global pressure to ensure that female canoeists were included.

In 2011, Laura Robinson, author, athlete and the 2011 University of Windsor Distinguished Visitor, was the keynote speaker at the Distinguished Visitor Annual Community Dinner in Windsor at the Caboto Club.

In her address, “Too Many Men on the Ice – What the World Would Look Like if Don Cherry Were a Woman”, Laura explored a mythical land where attention regarding issues that affect women everywhere: equal pay, a harassment-free workplace, an end to violence against women, equal opportunities for women on the playing field and in the boardroom – matches the focus men and their sports receive.

Laura’s books tackle many issues in sport including, “Crossing the Line: Violence and Sexual Assault in Canada’s National Sport”, and “She Shoots, She Scores – Canadian Perspectives on Women and Sport”.

Photo from the Tony Techko Collection, digitized by the University of Windsor, Leddy Library. (Many thanks to Katharine Ball, archivist at Leddy Library, for locating this team photo for me.) To access the libraries digital archives click on http://swoda.uwindsor.ca/swoda.

The University of Windsor’s Norah Cleary Entrance Award Scholarship was established in 1963 through the benefaction of the late Miss Norah Cleary to Assumption University.

My information on women’s basketball came from “The Girls and the Game: A History of Women’s Sport in Canada” Margaret Ann Hall, University of Toronto Press

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Gibbets, not giblets. Giving thanks that certain practices have gone the way of the DoDo.

It was the last thing I expected to see. A Gibbet. In the hallway leading to the washrooms on the main floor of Mackenzie Hall. 

I was attending a conference there last week and I’m fairly certain that other than the staff, I was the only one who knew that the frame of black rings and chains hanging on the wall between the Men’s Room and the Ladies’ Room was a gibbet. This was a device used to publicly display the bodies of executed criminals.

Built as a courthouse in 1855 and goal (jail) Mackenzie Hall is one of the oldest structures still standing in Sandwich, the oldest part of Windsor. Now the Cultural Centre for the City of Windsor, it is used as a performing arts space, theatre, art gallery, meeting facility and a ballroom for private rentals and special events. It stands next door to the present city jail, and has a ghost or two.

This rather unusual piece of trivia was floating around in my brain is because we used to run creepy stories every October in our local history publication, “The (Walkerville) Times”. Here’s one about gibbeting that we found in an old book about Sandwich: The Township of Sandwich Past and Present, by Frederick Neal (1909)

“During the early part of Sandwich’s existence as a District or County seat, punishment was dealt out with a liberal hand. In those days the law read “Murderers, horse and sheep thieves shall be hung in some public thoroughfare and remain in full view of passersby until the flesh rot from their bones.” It is said that a woman and a man were gibbeted on the brow of the hill near Mill Street and known as Lot 4, East Russell Street [near the Duff-Baby House]. The crime for which they are said to have suffered for was murder.

During the time when the office of Sheriff was held by William Hands two young men, both of Chatham, (one colored and one white), were gibbeted on the brow of the hill on Russell Street, nearly opposite of what is known by the citizens as Cook’s Canal. At that time Bedford Street terminated at South Street and the public thoroughfare continued down South Street to Russell, down Russell for a short distance and then gradually ran towards the river until the River Road was reached along by the Pittsburgh Coal Company’s dock and fish hatchery at the intersection at McKee Road.

The iron frames, or “gibbets,” consisted of an iron bar, which when placed on the person to be punished reached from the back of the neck to his heels. To this perpendicular bar was clasped an iron ring which clasped the neck, another encircled the waist, while two others firmly held the ankles.

The “gibbets” stood on an elevation overlooking the road. This big-boting made a great commotion in the neighborhood, and the exposed remains became so offensive as to excite the strongest opposition to the law.” The dreadful smelling things must be cut down and buried,” was the cry. But who was to do it? Such an action would be in defiance of law and might bring unknown severity upon the heads of the people who interfered. There seem to have been few brave enough to attempt the noisome work.

Sheriff Hands was a man of courage and decision, a conspicuous character that rode about mounted on a strikingly white horse.

One dark night during the heat of the argument regarding the occupants of the gibbets, a white horse was seen in the immediate neighbour-hood of the gibbets, and next morning not a sight was to be seen of bodies. No arrests were made and the worthy sheriff refused to talk on the subject and took no action to discover the person or persons who defied the law.

In 1889, the property on which the bodies of these two men were buried was purchased by Calvin Cook and made into a gravel pit. One day while the labourers were engaged in digging they came upon a quantity of bones and iron frames. The writer, hearing of this discovery, visited the gravel pit and succeeded in saving and securing the complete skeleton of one of the men and the gibbeting irons in which it was enclosed. The discovery and a complete history of the incidents was published in columns of the Windsor Record at that time.

A day or two afterwards Calvin Cook, the owner of the property, demanded possession of them and the writer very reluctantly gave them up. These “irons” have since passed on to other hands.”

(And now you also know why there was a school called William Hands.)

Here’s where I learned about those grand old days of gibbeting: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gibbet

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Esto Perpetua: Walkerville C. I. Lives On

Does November 2nd, 1922 mean anything to you? Probably not unless you’re a Walkerville Collegiate alumnus. On that bright fall day celebrations were held to mark the school’s official opening. A luncheon, a dance, a swimming exhibition and a program of “moving pictures” delighted all who attended.

Designed by architects Pennington and Boyle in Collegiate Gothic (the traditional style of the 1920s), Walkerville Collegiate Instiute cost $600,000 to build (an astronomical sum then) when the town of Walkerville had a population of just 7500 people.

In that first year enrolment was 195 students. The staff included Principal Robert Meade and nine teachers. The original building contained 22 classrooms and other areas including: manual training for the boys, household science for the girls, a wood paneled library, a 48 by 80 foot gymnasium, an 800-seat auditorium with a 42-foot stage and a pool known as “the Plunge.”

Also during the first year, W. D. Lowe Vocational School used the second floor of W.C.I. until moving into their own building on Giles in 1923. Walkerville Collegiate also housed the offices of dentist Dr. Dean, Dr. Phelps, M.D. and school nurse Miss V. L. Leavette.

In 1923, lunch was served in what is now the Family Studies room and usually consisted of soup and crackers or hot dogs and beans for a whole nickel. The kitchen and cafeteria were completely renovated in 1990.

When the town of Walkerville amalgamated with the city of Windsor in 1935, enrolment grew; soon all the rooms at WCI were in use.

The students and staff of Walkerville developed a fierce pride in their school, which was renowned as one of the top schools in the province. The famous Cameron-kilted Cadet Corps, with its own bagpipe band, were the best in the province. Walkerville also had a reputation for consistently producing champion athletic teams.

As the school’s population grew (peaking in 1970 at 1287), new rooms were added: in 1955 a music room, rifle range and, quartermaster stores (later converted into an industrial arts facility and now a media arts facility including a dark room and computer lab, a new gym and cafeteria); in 1966 the main office was revamped, a new library was built, as well as more classrooms.

Today, the Walkerville student council is still known as the Agora, taken from the name of the public square in Athens built in 500 B. C. Agora evoked the spirit of democracy for it was in the Agora of ancient Athens that the assembly met in session and its officers were elected by the citizens.

Agora membership was voluntary in 1934 and required a fee of a whopping 15¢ to cover expenses. Today Agora members are elected by the students.

The Agora established the Honour Society in 1960, to recognize individual effort in academics, athletics, service and clubs. Honours included everything from medals to having one’s picture hung in the library — a supreme honour.

Currently, Walkerville is known for its excellent arts program — the Windsor Centre for the Creative Arts. Previously, the visual arts program was centered at W. D. Lowe until the principal at Lowe decided to convert the art room to a weight training room. Several years ago, Walkerville faced possible closure but the students and community rallied and the school was spared.

2012 will be the school’s 90th anniversary. (Already!) Plans are afoot for a major celebration. I remember going to the 75th one and it was a blast. You can find out more about the anniversary preparations on facebook here.

Info for this article came from a story former Walkerville student Sonia Sulamain wrote for our publication The Walkerville Times in 1999.

For more stories on Walkerville Collegiate and the town of Walkerville check out walkervilletimes.com. And if you want your own copy of our local award-winning history book, “Best of The Times”, which includes several stories about the school as well as a significant section on the town of Walkerville and its visionary founder and name sake, Hiram Walker (who just happened to start a distillery down the road), you should act fast. It’s almost sold out.

Please note! Best of the Times IS NOW SOLD OUT! But we do have plenty of copies of our latest book: “Windsor Then – a pictorial essay of Windsor, Ontario’s glorious past”. It’s available on-line or at some local retail outlets including Juniper Books on Ottawa Street between Kildare & Argyle. More locations can be found on our website: walkerville.com.

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Cruising 1920s Style

Cruising for a good time?

Isn’t this photo a beaut? I’ve been saving it for a while. Tony Beresford, a member of my Windsor Ontario Then facebook group, posted it several months ago but unfortunately, didn’t have much information to go with it.

At least he knows who a couple of the fellows are: Jack (Red) Beresford is at the wheel, and sitting in the middle is his brother Ken Beresford. Ken was Tony’s grandfather and father-in-law to Tony’s mother Shirley who thinks this photo may was taken on Grove possibly near Church Street, an area close to downtown Windsor.

And that’s all they know.

Looking at their sharp duds, I would say they’re about to take a cruise down Ouellette Avenue to one of the hotels to meet some ladies, or they’re on their way to a wedding. Or maybe they’re going to board a ferry to head over to Detroit to try their luck with some American gals.

Since practically everyone in Windsor knows someone who knows someone who knows someone, that someone may have clues about this photo. Make Tony and Shirley happy by posting them below this story.

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Lounge Lizards: Walkerville’s Metropole Lounge was the “In” Spot

Were you a lounge lizard? A Metropole Lounge Lizard?

Do you even remember the Metropole? Well, in the 1950s and 60s, it was one of  THE places to go in Windsor.

Owned by Nick Drakich, (brother Mike owned The Top Hat Supper Club downtown), it was located on Walker Road at Niagara in Olde Walkerville. Locals were treated to many big name acts while enjoying fancy cocktails and sumptuous food. I’ll never forget when my big sister Brenda got Ricky Nelson’s autograph there one night.

Check out those prices !!

Before it was the Metropole it was called “The Farmers’ Roost” also known as “The Farmer’s Rest” where area farmers would quench their thirst after bringing a load of grain into Hiram Walker’s, which is just a few blocks further north. It had a long porch across the Walker Road side.

The original part of the building (if it is still there) would be around 135 years old.

In later years it became California’s and boasted a beach volleyball court outside. You can still see the logo on one of the inside doors of it’s current incarnation, Big Tony’s Original Wood Fired Pizza Company. If you have any memories of the Metropole, Big Tony Gallippi would love to know about them. Please share them in the comments section below or on his facebook group.

Daniela Marentette shared this info on Big Tony’s facebook group: Many people came to perform at the Metropole such as Al Martino, Patti Page and John Gary. Joe Messina was the band leader and musical arranger. Berry Gordy, the creator of Motown, spent many nights there checking out acts and also liked the the owner’s daughter, who he later became friends with.

The Music Lives On!

Tony is hosting his 2nd Annual Jazz Blues Fest this weekend in his parking area. Tonight (Sat., Sept.10/11) is the final night; door opens at 5 pm and the music goes on until 12. In addition to fabulous Windsor and Detroit acts, there is an artist/crafters area, plus Chris Edwards and I are doing a book signing of our latest local history book: Windsor Then – a pictorial essay of Windsor, Ontario’s glorious past. Get a sneak peek at www.walkervilletimes.com.

$7 at the door benefits Breast Cancer Survivors Dragon Boat Races.

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War of the Worlds?

October 2001 issue of The Walkerville Times showing front of The Wood Doctor on Wyandotte Street between Windermere and Chilver in Olde Walkerville

8:50 a.m., Sept. 11, 2001

Stepping out of the car, I do a slow half circle to take in the beauty all around me. It’s a perfect day. Warm, but not too warm. Not a single cloud in the sky. The thick green canopy of trees is a spectacular contrast to the clear sapphire blue sky. The colors of the flowers in the gardens up and down the street seem especially vivid.

I want to bottle this day and pour it out in February.

I have just come home from the gym to have a quick breakfast before walking over to the office. As I walk up the porch steps my mind shifts to work matters and I contemplate what should go on the cover of the October issue of The Walkerville Times. My hand is about to push the handle of our front door when it swings open and Chris is standing there and says, “You’ve got to come see this!”

I follow him into the living room. The tv is on and I see footage of the World Trade Towers in New York City with smoke coming out of one of the towers. Chris explains that a plane had just flown into one of the towers. We discuss whether it’s a novice pilot who somehow flew off course. Suddenly, we see a plane fly into the other tower! How can this be happening? We can’t seem to grasp what we’re seeing with our own eyes.

The newscaster himself is in disbelief and doesn’t have the words to explain what is happening or why. I immediately think of my kids. Both are at school and I worry about what this will do to them.

I decide that if Rosalie, who’s only 7, hasn’t heard at school about what’s going on, I will protect her by not telling her – at least not right away. I just don’t want her to see her world change like this until I can figure out how to explain it to her. Jon is 11 and I think will be able to handle the news better although as he’s so sensitive, I can’t help but worry.

Like everyone else, we somehow manage to get through that terrible day and the weeks that followed. I become a 9/11 junkie watching hours and hours of news coverage of the attacks, the scenes of people running away with that huge grey cloud chasing them, and then the makeshift memorials and photos posted by people looking for their loved ones. It’s like war has come to my world.

September 11, 2001 was obviously one of those days that would be seared into our brains forever. No one would ever never forget what they were doing that day, just like we’ve never forgotten where we were when we heard John F. Kennedy was assassinated, watched men land on the moon, heard when John Lennon was shot and when Princess Diana died.

Curious as to what others were doing and how they reacted when they heard about the attacks on 9/11 I can began asking people we knew if they could share their stories in our October 2001 issue. Here is a sampling:

I heard the news at the tail end of the 8 a.m. radio newscast, and my immediate thought was that it must be something like the H.G. Wells “War of the Worlds” broadcast which created such a panic. But of course it quickly became apparent that it wasn’t a hoax, that it was horribly real. I tuned into CBC Newsworld and then phoned my son David to tell him to do the same. I had an appointment to take my car in for servicing that morning, so had to take the 10 a.m. ferry over to Vancouver Island. I spent most of the day watching the TV coverage, both at the car dealership, and later at home again. It was a beautiful, sparkling day here, so clear and tranquil, and as I was making the crossing I looked at the surrounding mountains and could not believe that such a ghastly event could happen on such a day.

Sheelagh Weeks, Salt Spring Island, Vancouver, formerly of Windsor

I was home making business calls when my wife Michelle called me on my cell and said, “They’re flying airplanes into the World Trade Tower!” I thought she was joking and said, “Get out of here!” I turned on CNN and saw the second plane hit live. I thought it was an instant replay because the announcers sounded so passive. As an American, I was at first angry and then I was really upset. I could have cried.

Pat Kelly, Windsor

I was at school inquiring about a classroom with a television when I first heard what happened. This was before the second plane hit the tower so I saw the live coverage. My friends and I talked about the possibility of World War Three starting. A friend of mine was completely disgusted at the loss of human life. Then we went back to class. The teacher didn’t even mention what happened. Classes continued all day.

Currie Bednarick, Gr. 12 student, Walkerville C.I.

I was taking a beer delivery around 9 am at work from a driver coming in from London. He said, “Can you put on your TV? I want to see what’s happening in New York.” I said, “Why, what’s happening?” I had no clue what was going on. We turned the TV on and saw the second plane hit. After watching for a while it was definitely hard to focus on work. I’ve spent a lot of time in the U.S. – I usually go to Detroit every week to escape my normal routine. It was devastating for me.

Joe McIntosh, Kildare House, Walkerville

I turned on the news at 5:45 a.m. (PDT) and all of a sudden, it cut away to New York to show that a plane had hit the World Trade Tower. I thought it was just a little plane and how sad that was. As I was planning to take the dog for a walk I see the second plane hit and I thought, oh my God, how could two planes hit the towers? I couldn’t stop watching. I was crying and freaking out and I woke up my daughter Ange and told her she should see what’s happening. It was like the world was ending. I finally pulled myself away from the TV to get ready for work at a clothing store in West Vancouver. I had to suppress my feelings all day although at one point, when a customer was obsessing about a skirt and made me call Toronto to see if one was available, I said to her, ‘Do you know what happened today?’ and she said, “Yes it’s sad but what can I do about it?” I couldn’t understand how she could be so callous.

Jan Dean, North Vancouver, formerly of Belle River

I was on a canoe trip from September 6 to the 20th in Quetico Provincial Park in northern Ontario with my brother and two friends. We did not have a radio or phones as we knew from past experience they would be useless. When we came out of the park on September 20th, we checked into a hotel in a small town west of Thunder Bay. After having a shower, we stopped into the pub next door for a beer and some dinner. As we usually do when we’ve been on a trip like this, we asked the bartender what had been going on in the world. When he told us about the attack we thought he was kidding. He kept insisting it was true and finally switched on CNN at the exact time that President Bush began his speech. We sat in stunned silence for 15 minutes trying to take it all in. Driving home the next day, we were extremely touched by all the flags we saw at half-mast in northern Ontario. We couldn’t stop talking about the disaster. We recalled that when the first plane had crashed, we had been setting up our tent. The only clue that something might have been amiss was one day my brother commented that he hadn’t seen any jet trails, but we really didn’t think anything of it.

John Lounsbury, Ann Arbor

Times Square was bursting with people when we visited in 2008 (photo e. weeks)

Chris and I and took our kids to New York three summers ago. We packed a lot into five days and had an incredible time. The streets were bustling night and day and there were tourists everywhere. It was hard to imagine that a tragedy on the scale of 9/11 had ever struck here. The city had returned to normal.

And I can’t wait to go back.

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Way Back To School: School Days 1907


It’s the first day of school for tens of thousands of elementary and secondary students in Windsor and Essex County. No doubt many parents are breathing a collective sigh of relief that their little darlings are no longer moping about the house or pestering them to take them to a friend’s house or to the mall.

Being a parent of a Walkerville Collegiate student myself (who fortunately was able to fill her days this summer without too much parental help) I thought back to my own first days at school and how exciting they always were. Especially because they meant I finally had new shoes.

In this age of interactive SMART Boards on many classroom walls and a computer station in every pot (sorry, couldn’t resist) I thought what better time than today to look way back when every grade was taught in one room by one teacher. Can you imagine?? For some reason I am instantly reminded of that old commercial, “Exederin Headache No. 1, 2, 3, etc.”

A few years before she died at 107, (yes, you read that correctly) Camilla Stodgell Wigle, who had an incredible memory of her very long life in Windsor/Walkerville, provided this account of just what it was like to attend a one-room school house.

School Memories, 1907

I started school at five or six years of age, which would be 92 or 93 years ago. I just can’t believe it’s been that long.

I went to S.S. #1, Township of Sandwich East Public School – later Riverview Hospital on Riverside, where all classes from grades one to grade eight were taught by one teacher. We didn’t seem to mind and each grade had their own sitting place and as we were assigned to our work or studies, we seemed to concentrate on what we had to do, and didn’t listen to the teacher talking to other students of different grades.

Classes would be asked to go to the front of the room, in a line to be asked questions and to write on the blackboard, or do arithmetic. That was fun. I must say some of the girls and boys in lower classes would listen in to what the teacher would be teaching the upper classes and this way gain knowledge. Sometimes, when a know-it-all spoke up, they would be called “Smart Alex”.

A potbelly stove at the front of the classroom gave us heat in the winter. Sometimes the back of the room would be so cold! When the stove needed more wood to burn the teacher would say, “Billy would you please go out and bring in more wood for the stove.” In cold weather, that was a shivering job – poor Billy’s hands would be so cold, he would stay for a while beside the stove until his hands warmed up.

School started at 9 a.m. and at 10:30 we all had to go out for recess. Only those who had a cold or something would stay inside. To have a drink of water, there was a pump outside with a handle on it and I remember a tin cup on a chain, and a hook to hang it on. Oh how cold that water was! Water fights often occurred and then we had to stay in at recess for punishment.

I often wonder how the new generation would cope, we didn’t have the conveniences then as now, and we had two outhouses to go to when nature called – one for the boys and one for the girls and we had to use newspapers or pages from magazines for hygiene sake. Can you believe this? I bet it’s hard for you even to think of those days but I lived through them and I don’t think it hurt one or any of us. It made us strong, obedient and truthful.

We adored our teacher and respected her wishes! When we didn’t obey, our parents would enter into the scene and would reprimand us for disobedience. We had to respect religion too and always began our school day with the Lord’s Prayer. Sometimes, one of the older pupils would read scripture – no matter what colour or religion the pupils were, they all knew their God was the one they worshipped, so all was harmony among us all.

We had great holidays too. On Dominion Day as it was called then, we all gathered around the flagpole when our national flag was raised, stood at attention, and saluted it with dignity and pride, our voices soaring toward the sky. We looked at the flying flag with love for our country. Singing “O Canada” I can remember having chills running through me. I guess I was just happy for all the good things I had.

Our one room school became too small in a few years and a new room was added on. What a thrill it was to know we were to have two rooms. Boy oh boy! Not to have a crowded room was great. Things changed a lot. New ideas were put to practice but we always had the inner feeling of closeness and friendship, which never died – even when we graduated. That fellowship never left us even though we left our dear school for good to enter into higher horizons of learning. We may have had a hollow feeling inside, but greater things were in the future for us.

I hope all those who were my friends and companions remembered our one room schoolhouse with great joy and through the years used the knowledge and teachings from our beloved schoolteachers. Three I remember to give them honour: Miss Hand, Miss Richards and Miss Briody.

Walkerville Collegiate Swim Team (1940s?)

You can read more of Camilla’s memories of Windsor and many other stories of way back when on our website, walkervilletimes.com

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Mystery Walkerville Families

This nearly 100-year-old photo was posted on my Windsor Ontario Then Facebook group by Dale MacRae-Barry, the great granddaughter of George Ernest Johnson, identified in the top row. Dale is hoping someone may recognize this photo and be able to provide her with some information.
(I love how the little girl in white with her elaborate ringlets and big hair bow, stands out from the crowd.)
This is what Dale knows:
George Ernest Johnson and his family lived in the Walkerville area when they came from England in 1913. They moved in with a family probably around 1915 who lived on Lincoln Road.
Before the 1911 census the address was 136 Lincoln and afterwards the address was changed to 349 Lincoln and was occupied by the Choate Family. It’s possible they are pictured in the photo above.
Here’s another little tidbit she found dated Oct. 16, 1914 from the Evening Record: Mr. and Mrs. Frank Choate, 349 Lincoln Road Walkerville announce the marriage of their daughter, Ruth Ethel to Mr. Thomas O’Brien of Sandwich.
If you can share any information with Dale about the Johnson, Choate or O’Brien families, please join the Windsor Ontario Then facebook group and add your comments, or comment below this post.
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Dream Cruising to Ford City

A 1950s dream cruiser passes the Woodward landmark Duggan's Irish Pub (photo e. weeks)

Windsor, Ontario is separated by Detroit, Michigan, The Motor City, by a one-mile river. At times, that river barely seems to exist as there are some events that serve to unite our two cities and countries. I have no idea how many Windsorites participated in this year’s Woodward Dream Cruise in Detroit, but I’m sure there was probably a good contingent.

My husband and I were there in our 1987 Mercedes SL 560 and so was my brother-in-law in his beloved El Camino so there’s three right there!

The Dream Cruise is apparently the world’s largest one-day automotive event, drawing about 1.5 million people and 40,000 classic cars each year from around the globe. I think there might be a bit of spin regarding that attendance number as it sure didn’t seem like there was more than 100,000 people watching and participating when we were there in the morning, but maybe things really got rolling, so to speak, later in the day.

Yeah! A Gremlin! One of my favorite cars in the 2011 Woodward Dream Cruise (photo e. weeks)

The majority of the cars in the Cruise are from the 1950s, 60s and early 70s prior to the OPEC oil embargo, which led to the Corporate Average Fuel Economy regulations of 1975 and the proliferation of more fuel-efficient and less powerful automobiles. 

The Cruise doesn’t follow Woodward to downtown Detroit which I think is unfortunate as it would help stimulate the outer core’s battered economy. The reason it starts just south of 8 Mile is because in the post-World War II era, young adults often “cruised” in their cars along that stretch of the Avenue from drive-in to drive-in, perhaps looking for peers or friends or an opportunity for some street racing or at least a chance to “burn rubber”.

A plumber from Ferndale, came up with the idea for the cruise in 1994 to help raise money for a children’s soccer field in his community. Organizers initially expected 30,000 or 40,000 people to come to the August 19, 1995 inaugural cruise on Woodward Avenue but 250,000 showed up. It now brings in over $56 million annually to the Metro Detroit economy. (For a taste of what the cruise was like, check out my video.)

About to Decline: Drouillard Road in Ford City in the 1950s

 My “dream” is that one year the Cruise will roll down Drouillard Road through Ford City in Windsor. Hard to imagine that what is now a rough-and-tumble-seen-better-days part of the city, was once a boom town. When Ford Canada moved its head office to Oakville in 1954 Ford City suffered a serious decline and never recovered.

Can you imagine what a healthy shot in the arm a Windsor version of the Dream Cruise could be?

A Brief History of Ford City

The germ for Ford City started in 1904 when an alert local entrepreneur, Gordon McGregor, accomplished a deal with Henry Ford to bring auto parts to the Wagon Works in neighbouring Walkerville at a lower duty than completed cars paid, thus getting an edge on the Canadian market. That year 17 employees produced 117 finished automobiles.

This small beginning was the springboard from which ensued the most vibrant growth of a manufacturing industry which Canada had ever seen. The Ford of Canada operation soon outgrew its original building, and after the first new building just east of Walkerville was completed in 1910, Ford continually expanded over a huge site which eventually covered hundreds of acres.

Workers poured into the area as many additional industries making car components as well as other car makers began operations. By 1913 Ford of Canada employed 1,400 employees, the wages were $4 an hour and the work week was 48 hours. The wages far exceeded what was generally available in manufacturing at the time, and news of the opportunities soon spread.

By 1928 when Ford City changed its name to East Windsor, it reached its peak population of around 16,000. At this time, it covered 1,600 acres of land, had six schools and a fully developed structure of municipal services.

Along Drouillard Road could be found every kind of store and commercial facility. There were churches for every kind of religious persuasion – Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and United. All this, from open fields to a busy town, happened in the short space of 20 years.

By 1923 it was reported that about 85 percent of Ford residents owned their own homes, and they were able to finance loans necessary for building schools, civic buildings, libraries and utility service. 

Read more about Ford City on our archive site, walkervilletimes.com here.

Sources: Windsor 1892-1992, A Centennial Celebration, Trevor Price & Larry

Wikipedia- en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woodward_Dream_Cruise

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I love old buildings WAY too much.

This photo has been perched on my virtual desktop for over a month. Every now and then I would catch a glimpse of it and I would tell myself, Ok, DO SOMETHING with that photo so you can get it off your damn desktop!

The building had caught my eye in the spring when I was stopped at a light on Ouellette Avenue a few blocks north of Tecumseh Road. I grabbed a quick shot with my trusty pink pocket camera.

Such a beautiful structure – simple in design but with nice little touches like the arched doorway, the recessed façade with that sort of checkerboard area at the top, and those groovy decorative cement accents at the roofline.

Ouellette south of Elliot Street is dotted with several other charming old apartment buildings. I have one particular favorite that I must take a photo of one of these days. It’s yellow brick and has aqua downspouts, which were once shiny copper color I imagine, running down the facade. I think it is possibly Art Deco in design.

I was once so madly in love with that building it was my number one choice as my first apartment when I moved out of my parents’ house in the early 1980s. My emotional attachment was so strong in fact that I ignored what my gut was trying to tell me when I met the manager. Alas, shortly after moving in he showed his true colors (ie., creepy pervert) so sadly, I had to vacate my beloved apartment to a nice old building on Giles.

I’m sure the creep is long gone but happily, the building he managed still stands. Along with the Prince of Wales, I hope it never has a date with the wrecking ball as so many gracious old homes have on Ouellette.

Segue time: And speaking of yellow brick buildings, you might enjoy this story I wrote many moons ago for My Old House, a regular column in our former publication, The Times Magazine. It’s called:

The Yellow Brick Question

McEwan Manor at 131 McEwan was originally owned by John McEwan, sheriff of Windsor/Essex and editor of Windsor's first newspaper. In 1854, he and his wife attempted to save Norwegian immigrants stricken with cholera.

A reader’s architectural query opens the door to an astonishing time in Windsor’s history.

I moved to Windsor in 1969. The Windsor, Walkerville and Sandwich areas are such great places in which to live. My question is, why are there so few soft yellow brick buildings this side of Chatham? If one travels to Chatham, Sarnia or London, the number of soft yellow brick buildings from the late 1800s and early 1900s is significant. Why does Windsor and amalgamated communities have so few of these brick buildings? The only one from that era I can think of is McEwan Manor at 131 McEwan. Robert Schmidt, Windsor

read the fascinating answer to Robert’s question here.

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Old is the New New: Our latest book “Windsor Then” is born.

Once upon a time this was the view looking south up Ouellette Avenue. Captured by an unknown photographer from the deck of a Detroit/Windsor ferry boat. (circa 1910)

I am very happy to announce the birth of Walkerville Publishing’s latest baby: “Windsor Then – A Pictorial Essay of Windsor Ontario’s Glorious Past.”

138 black and white photos chronicle Windsor’s progress from its days as a sleepy backwater in 1860 to 1960 when anything seemed possible.

Yes, a whole century of rare and fascinating photos in one handy softcover book.

If you’d like one, they’re available at Juniper Books on Ottawa Street between Argyle and Kildare. (519-258-4111)

Or, contact me, elaine@walkerville.com, to arrange pick up or shipment from our world headquarters here in wonderful Olde Walkerville. Oh, almost forgot. They’re $20.

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Horses of the River

Horse powered ferries once linked Windsor, Ontario, Canada with Detroit, Michigan, USA (from "Birth of a City" by Carl Morgan)

Driving past a country fair near Niagara-on-the-Lake yesterday, I spotted a pony ride. Wow, did that take me back – and not just to my youth. It reminded of a illustration I had recently scrutinized while browsing through “Birth of a City”, Carl Morgan’s iconic book about Windsor’s past.

Long before the Detroit/Windsor Tunnel and the Ambassador Bridge were built, citizens on both sides of the Detroit River crossed it by horse power – the hay eating kind. These four-legged engines plodded endlessly in a circle to power paddle wheeled passenger ferries.

Horse powered ferries were once very common around the world. Patented in 1819, their design goes back to the time of the Romans. The Roman ox boat was an early war vessel propelled by a team of oxen. During the 1700s, boats propelled by horses could be found on various rivers and canals of Europe. It was a natural course of events that those people immigrating to America from Europe would bring their knowledge of horse powered boats to our lakes and rivers. By the early 1800s, horse powered boats could be found on Lake Champlain and the Hudson River. By the 1820s, this mode of transportation had spread to the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, the Great Lakes, and to several other rivers and lakes in the Northeast.

Care to read more? Check out this cool article about a horse powered ferry boat found in Lake Champlain in 1983.

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Musings about trolleys, congregating and “progress”.

get me to the church on time: corner of Cataraqui and Windermere, Windsor, (Walkerville) when it was brand spanking new and there were no houses yet to the west

With current local chit chat about a city councillor’s suggestion to bring back street cars in Windsor, I pondered (once again) how different things (read better) would be here if our city fathers had just left well enough alone.

Here are a couple of intriguing tales we ran in “The Walkerville Times” concerning our revolutionary but short-lived electric trolley cars (1886 – 1939) before they were deemed antiquated and unnecessary by the “progressive thinking” of our fearless leaders.

Born on the Trolley Car: Chalmers United Church

Walkerville early 1900s: a rapidly growing community ­ increasing from about 1,000 to 3,000 in the first decade of this century. The establishment of the Ford Motor Company  in 1904, together with other motor firms and diverse Walker business interests combined to bring about a remarkable population surge. The town was already served by two Protestant churches – Lincoln Road Methodist and St. Mary’s Anglican.

chalmers.jpgThe large number of Scottish Presbyterians commuted to St. Andrew’s Church in Windsor by means of trolley car, which was becoming less adequate to transport the increasing numbers. Automobiles were not yet possessed by the ordinary family.

The chief subject of discussion on the trolley car while returning from St. Andrew’s was the inconvenience of the situation and the possibility of forming a local church. Steps were taken to establish a branch Sunday school in Walkerville in November, 1907. Meetings were held in Forester’s Hall on Chilver near Wyandotte [now all those neat shops, the Yoga Loft, etc.] under the superintendence of Mr. David Johnstone. The move justified itself by an increase of membership from a start of twenty to an attendance of ninety within three months.

In August, 1907, the building committee was organized consisting of Gordon M. McGregor (President of Ford Motor Company) Chairman, and [others]. They acted promptly and were able to report that the present site (north west corner of Windermere Rd. at Niagara) could be purchased for $800. … At the same meeting, it was decided that architects Williams Brothers and J. M. Watts be requested to submit plans for a building to cost between $10,000 and $15,000.

The official opening of the church took place on November 12, 1908, with Dr. G. M. Milligan preaching at both services. The Walkerville paper noted that the day was “bright and warm which made the event all the more auspicious and at both services the church was filled” and “the choir of ten male and ten female voices rendered most appropriately and pleasingly the song services”.

Rev. Peter Taylor was the first minister (March, 1909.) The congregation was made up of first and second generation Scottish, English and Irish immigrants. With the union of the Congregationalist, Methodist and Presbyterian churches in 1925, it became known as the “First Presbyterian United Church” and on its 15th anniversary in 1933, it became “Chalmers United Church.” 

From the Chalmers United Church Golden Anniversary Booklet 1958. Read the full story here. (Chalmers closed in 2000 due to declining enrolment. It became a private dwelling for a few years and was then purchased and is now operated by “All Nations Full Gospel Church”.)

turner.jpgAvid “Walkerville Times” readers Bruce and Norah Long sent the adjacent photo of a trolley running along Devonshire Road, and story below to our paper about a dozen years ago when Bruce was 87.

“This little street car travelled through Walkerville. It was named the Turnerville Trolley after a popular newspaper comic. It only had four wheels and you could rock it.

For 6 cents you could take it from Devonshire and Wyandotte, along Wyandotte for two blocks to Monmouth, up Monmouth to Ottawa St. across to Walker then up to General Motors, then along Seminole where it reversed and retraced the route back to Devonshire. This was the transportation for all the Walkerville people who worked in all the factories and businesses along Walker Rd.

During the Second World War, the double tracks for the trolley along Monmouth were torn up and cut with an acetylene torch into 2 foot lengths. They were shipped to the Hamilton Iron and Steel plant for use in the war effort.”

We ran other stories about Windsor’s amazing transit system including “The Junction – Birthplace of Windsor’s and Area’s Transit System”.

Sigh. Once again I can only shake my head when I consider everything we once had and all that we have lost.

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Upper Canada, eh? Windsor in 1837.

View of Detroit from Windsor, Ontario around 1850

Still enjoying the leftovers from your bbq celebrating 144 years of Confederation? Ah, yes. There’s nothing like cold chicken, ribs, potato salad and watermelon washed down by an icy Molson Canadian to help prolong that warm patriotic feeling.

In addition to Canada Day being a helluva good excuse to party, it’s also a fine reason to think about our past. At least I think so.

From 1841 to Confederation in 1867, Windsor was part of what was referred to as Canada West and prior to that, Upper Canada. Have you ever wondered what Windsor was like back in 1867? Well, how about 1837?

Anna Brownell Jameson: courageous explorer, feminist and author

Thanks to the wanderings of an intrepid British woman named Anna Brownell Jameson (Murphy) we have a fascinating record of what life in this area was like so long ago. Anna Jameson was a prominent British author, feminist, travel writer, and art historian. In 1836, she was summoned to Canada by her husband, who had been appointed chief justice of the province of Upper Canada. He failed to meet her at New York, and she was left to make her way alone in winter to Toronto.

Here she began the travelogue of her journey, Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada, which was later published in Britain in 1838. After eight months of travelling and writing in Canada, Anna’s book provided an intimate and unique look at the people and the land as she journeyed for weeks on end by wagon, coach, steamship – and even log canoe.

Soon after arrival in Toronto in December 1836, she let it be known that the following year she would travel across Upper Canada to the Detroit River, then head north Lake Huron.

Her new Canadian friends were horrified and tried unsuccessfully, to dissuade her with predictions of certain disaster. The country, after all was still an untamed, unmapped wilderness. Certainly no place for a gentlewoman just arrived from Britain.

Ignoring their warnings, she set out and as her friends predicted, did suffer hardship and adversity. After finally arriving in Detroit she became ill, and while recuperating, found time to visit what she described as the “little hamlet opposite to Detroit”, referring to it as “Richmond” even though the name “Windsor” had been officially adopted just the year before. Her brief visit produced an interesting perspective:

“I hardly know how to convey to you an idea of the difference between the two shores. It will appear to you as incredible as it is to me incomprehensible.

Our shore is said to be the more fertile but to float between them (as I did today in a little canoe made of a hollow tree, and paddled by a half-breed imp of a boy) to behold on one side, a city, with its towers and spires and animated population, with villas and handsome houses stretching along the shore, and a hundred vessels or more, gigantic steamers, brigs, schooners, crowding the port, loading and unloading; all the bustle, in short, of prosperity and commerce …

and on the other side, a struggling hamlet, one schooner, one little wretched steamboat, some windmills, a Catholic chapel or two, a supine ignorant peasantry, all the symptoms of apathy, indolence, mistrust, hopelessness!

… Can I, can anyone, help wondering at the difference and asking whence it arises?”

Very good question Anna and one that has also made me scratch my head many times. Why did Detroit grow into a major cosmopolitan city and Windsor cling to its small town roots? Surely, the reason must be more complex than the existence of a one-mile river separating two communities in two different countries.

I did a little investigating in one of my handy local history books and discovered this little gem:

“For more than fifty years following the American acquisition of Detroit, progress was slow on the Canadian side of the Detroit River and in Essex County beyond. The difficulty of communication with the outside world was a very real obstacle in the way of both settlement and trade. Completion of the Erie Canal (1825) and the Welland Canal (1829) eased matters in allowing direct water communication with the eastern seaboard. But once the icy hand of winter descended upon the Great Lakes and their connecting rivers, isolation was complete. Improved land transportation in the form of railway connections with the east was imperative, and until this was achieved, Essex County could expect little improvement. This was to come early in the second half of the 19th century.”

Garden Gateway to Canada, 100 Years of Windsor and Essex County, 1854-1954, Neil F. Morrison, copyright 1954

"Bustling" Sandwich Street (Riverside Drive) looking west in 1891 by Frederick Arthur Verner. The Canadian Pacific Railway station is at right.

The railway didn’t come to Windsor until 1854. At long last Windsor was connected with the rest of the country. Things definitely improved; Windsor began to grow.

But it never caught up to Detroit. The Motor City had a much bigger head start and though it has suffered mightily over the last 60 years, it still is a big city and Windsor, well, hmmm…. was Anna actually looking into a crystal ball?

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Walkerville: Past Tense

Bustling with Activity: The north side of Wyandotte Street looking east from Gladstone (from Windsor Star Archives)

I plan to take a photo of what this block looks like now.

Stay tuned!

To read about shopping in Walkerville in the “olden days” read Al Roach’s charming story (published in The Walkerville Times and archived on walkervilletimes.com), Give Me a Dollar to Spend on Wyandotte St. in the 1930s 

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I Read You Loud and Clear Dad.

Bert Weeks, City of Windsor's Mayor from 1975 - 1982, born 1917, died 1990

The phone calls came about twice a month, almost like clockwork. It would be Dad announcing he had a bag of magazines to bring over. A voracious reader he could plow through probably a good dozen of them a week, in addition to a couple of newspapers a day.

No doubt his interest in the written word was due to having to abandon school after Grade 7 to go to work. It was the Great Depression and his father had just died. So he continued his education on his own, by reading whatever he could get his hands on.

And because his formative years were lived during a time in history where nothing was wasted, Dad felt compelled to pass the magazines along when he was finished with them. But really, I knew it was his excuse to have a little visit.

Once I asked him why he never read books. He said he didn’t have time; magazines and newspapers were faster. Well, he certainly was a very busy man so that made sense. Therefore, it’s interesting that he is holding a book in the portrait Pat Sturn took of him while he was Mayor. (Until I inserted this photo into this post at “full-size” I hadn’t noticed the subtle positioning of the mayor’s “chain of office” at his left.)

His incredible work ethic was developed during the Depression as well. Dad learned a trade and opened his first shop in his hometown of Montreal at the age of 20. Having already been in the work force for six years during a time in Canada’s history when many cities experienced over 40% unemployment, he experienced first hand the injustices meted by some employers on anyone who could actually find work; he decided it would be best to be his own boss.

Bert Weeks at 20, in front of his first shop, 1937, Greene Ave. Montreal

Fortunately, his flat feet kept him out of WWII and he moved to Windsor shortly after the war with his wife Sheila and their twin girls. His political aspirations had begun to surface and family legend has it that he was looking for a city to become mayor of. Not being a francophone meant his chances in Montreal were slim.

Shortly after arriving in Windsor, he assessed that all was not well in his adopted city. Windsor had a reputation as “sin city” and was a hotbed for illegal gambling, prostitution, after-hours drinking and other criminal activities with the police turning a blind eye.

So, Dad being Dad, decided to take a stand and formed the “Citizens Action Committee”. My mother was probably not all that thrilled about this development but I’m sure she believed in him and knew that Dad was doing the right thing. It wasn’t until several years after the Windsor police scandal that the important roll Dad played was revealed.

“A watch repairman and jewellery shop owner, Weeks formed the Citizens Action Committee which pressured the municipal and provincial governments to investigate “police indifference to widespread lawbreaking in Windsor.

Weeks met secretly with OPP officers in Detroit on several occasions to pass on information regarding Windsor police corruption.”

The above quote is from “Portrait of a Scandal” by Robert Earl Stewart, which appeared in the March 2002 issue of our publication, “The Times Magazine” here. It is also featured in our local history book, “Best of The Times Magazine”.

(photo e. weeks)

Dad died in 1990. His remains were cremated and scattered as was his wish. Bert Weeks Memorial Gardens, a beautiful water-themed park and garden, was opened in 2005 after friends spent many years raising the funds to build it to honor him and the devotion he had for the city of Windsor. It is a fantastic addition to Windsor’s waterfront and part of Dad’s dream of an unimpeded trail of parks along the Detroit River for people to enjoy.

The Gardens is therefore more than a park or a memorial, it’s also a place where Dad’s family can go to honor and remember him. The yearly neglect of this city jewel by the city of Windsor and recent vandalism (see article here) is surprising and very disheartening.

It’s Father’s Day. Call your Dad, if you can.

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Captured by Three Little Girls from the 1920s

Parasols at the ready and munching on what looks likes apples, three 1920s cuties with their fashionable bobs keep a keen eye on something coming down the road.

A few years ago, I bought a couple of old black and white snapshots from Louise, owner of the delightful vintage boutique, Jones & Co., on Wyandotte Street East in Olde Walkerville (Windsor). This particular photo caught my eye because the house in the background reminded me of the charming English style cottage homes that line a few of the roads and cul de sacs south of Ottawa Street.

Known as “Community Homes” these wooden or brick houses were designed and built for the Walkerville Land and Building Co. in the 19 teens by W. N. McEachren & Sons Limited. In addition, the commercial building on the corner of Ottawa and Kildare Streets is one of their structures.

One day, I drove slowly through that neighbourhood hoping to find a house that matched the one in the photo. My mission was impossible however, in part because several of the homes have been altered over the years.

Or, it’s could be quite likely that these little girls were photographed in front of one of the thousands of other Community Homes built by the same company throughout Ontario including Toronto, Brantford, Kingston, Brockville, Niagara Falls, Welland, Port Colborne, Amherstburg, Leamington and Essex, as well as Lansing, Michigan.

I have an original McEachren booklet describing their products as:

“… proven by living people to be Beautiful, Practical, Substantial. The designs and plans are the final creations of Foremost English and American Authorities on Home Architure and Construction. Economy is the controlling thought in these plans – not economy that merely cheapens but that which eliminates all unnecessary costs without sacrifice of appearance, strength or utility.

McEachren Built-Homes are truly Better-Built, better to look at, better to live in and better to last.”

A quick Google search did not reveal if the company lasted but their South Walkerville homes certainly have.

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Scene on the Streets: Windsor 2011

Flipped Its Lid: This stately home on Ontario at Devonshire is getting an extreme makeover. Since this photo was shot in April, the house has been stripped down to almost nothing. (Funny, it looked perfectly fine to me). (photo e. weeks)

Something Stinks: A skunk (in the daytime?) and vandalized French doors at Devonshire Manor (aka the Low-Martin House, Ontario at Devonshire. Note that the copper eves troughs and downspouts are missing. According to the owner, they disappeared during the replacement of the roof. The house is named for the rum runner who built it, Harry Low, and one of the later residents, Paul Martin Sr. a senator whose son became Prime Minister of Canada. For history on the house go to walkervilletimes.com. (photo e. weeks)

Rejoice No More: Probably built as a corner store, this sad looking building in a crumbling neighourhood in West Windsor (Sandwich Town), became home to Metropolitan Community Church on Brock Street, (named for General Brock of War of 1812 fame. The area was a site of one of the major battles.) The late Don McRae was pastor. (photo e. weeks)

The Back Story: The front and sides of this building on Walker (home to a construction equipment business) are painted bright yellow. The rear, along the alley between Walker & Monmouth, although marred by boarded up windows and graffiti, is a lot more interesting. (photo e.weeks)

It's Elementary: Inviting entranceway of Marlborough Public School (opened 1930), 3557 Melbourne, Windsor's west end. Why haven't I noticed this gem before? Besides the gorgeous front door, what I love about this building is that it was built on the diagonal of a very spacious lot. For history on the school, go to http://fc.gecdsb.on.ca/~marlboroughps/. (photo e.weeks)

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Did You Know Jack? A Walkerville Landmark Is No More

Once upon a time, this fresh empty lot on Monmouth at Ontario was Jack's Corner Store (photo e. weeks)

I nearly ran the stop sign when I noticed the old red brick building on the northeast corner of Monmouth at Ontario was missing. It had ALWAYS been there!! Where did it go??

In fact the little house and the small hairdressing shop front just to the north had vanished too.

Wow. I can’t even count the times when I was a little girl that I walked to this corner  from our house a couple of blocks away with my friend Carolyn to buy some penny candy at “Jack’s”. Old Jack (he could have been just in his forties but he looked ancient to us) would stand on the other side of a big old wood and glass cabinet, patiently filling up tiny paper bags as we painstakingly picked out black balls (3-for-a-penny), caramel squares, jelly beans, black cat or Bazooka gum and red licorice sticks.

I think all that sweet loot cost about a dime, or maybe it was 15 cents. At any rate, it was one of the most satisfying and delicious ways to spend a lazy Saturday afternoon.

Jack also had a very small but really cool soda fountain but I rarely bought a milkshake or float as I didn’t have enough money. He closed up shop many years ago but the hairdresser carried on until, if I’m not mistaken, fairly recently.

post-Jack's and two years before its demolition: a forlorn, tortured building with no soul (photo: e. weeks, 2009)

The two-storey building that housed Jack’s appeared to be a small apartment block. The years after he closed up or sold his store to someone else to operate are hazy. I had moved out of the neighbourhood by then and then away from the city. After moving back to Windsor 13 years I was saddened to discover that Jack’s corner store had been converted into a rather sparten looking apartment. The whole building just looked so forlorn.

And now it’s all gone.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s not that big of a deal of course. It was just another nondescript building that anybody who was unfamiliar with its days as the neighbourhood store for kids from blocks around, would not really give a second glance.

In actuality however, it was more than a corner store – it was the common denominator for the children of the working class parents on Monmouth and Walker and those from the better off households along Argyle, Devonshire, Ontario and Richmond. Perhaps not every kid would be able to afford a little paper bag of candy but even if they only had a few cents to spare, they could still buy enough to satisfy their sweet tooth for a little while.

I’m not sure the reason for this demolition. Perhaps it has something to do with St. Anne’s Separate School (located a bit north down the street)’s new playground. Or, perhaps the owner of the property was tired of paying the property taxes so mowed it down to save money (as is often the case in Windsor – read Empty Lot Blues: Filling In the Gaps).

Whatever the rationale, another piece of local history is now relegated to my memory bank, and if you also grew up in that neighbourhood of Olde Walkerville in the 1960s, maybe yours too.

I found some pics of the May 18, 2011 demolition of Jack’s in Andrew Foot’s excellent local history blog, International Metropolis. You can see them here and also check out some other info on the building.

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Hey You Posers! (How One Old Photo Led to Another.)

I’ve been saving this charming photo for a while. I received it from my constant source of old local photos, Charlie Fox, several years ago. He wrote:

“I found another old photo you might like. The three people are Alfred Mapes, member of the Walkerville Police Department, and later town assessor, his son Calvin, and his wife Bessie, my father’s sister.”

Dr. Chandler, veterinarian for Hiram Walker, who was much more than a whisky maker. p7519 Windsor's Community Museum

Wow! That corset looks like it hurt!

A quick Google search on “Marratt” led me to the photo at right of Dr. Chandler, who looked after Hiram Walker’s farm animals. This photo was taken at the studio of Bragy, Diehl & Co. Artistic Photographers Gabinet, 35-39 Munroe Avenue, Detroit, Mich.

I had never heard of the doctor before, but I had certainly heard of Hiram Walker and his farms. Dr. Chandler looked after the cattle at Walker’s farm when it was located at Seminole and Walker Roads, site of the General Motors Transmission Plant (read more about it in my story “From Cows to Cars”). Walker had an extensive farming industry in and around Walkerville and further south. Mash from Walker’s distillery on the Detroit River was pumped south through a cyprus wood pipeline to feed his cattle.

You may enjoy a story I wrote several years ago called Walker Farms: A Wonder Among Farms.

Both these stories and many more about Hiram Walker, his company town of Walkerville, and his world famous Canadian Club whisky, can be found in our award-winning local history book, “Best of The Times Magazine” available through our website, walkervilletimes.com, or at Indigo Books in St. Clair Beach or Juniper Books on Ottawa Street in Walkerville. You can also email me: elaine@walkerville.com if you’d like an autographed copy for $40 plus tax and shipping. (Pssst…. we are almost sold out!)

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Victoria 101: Why We Have a Long Weekend in May

Why All The Fuss?

I was curious. British history is given short shrift in our schools so I had to wonder why we celebrated Queen Victoria every May. Not that I’m complaining or anything but what on earth did she do to deserve such an honor so that Canadians could get a holiday to remember her birthday when it’s finally nice enough to have a bbq and light fireworks (although it usually rains on Victoria Day and as I write this on Victoria Day 2011 the sky is indeed darkening and I can hear thunder). 

This article (slightly updated) written by yours truly and Laryssa Landale, appeared in a May edition of “The Walkerville Times” about ten years ago.

“[Victoria’s] Diamond Jubilee was, perhaps, the most conspicuous demonstration in the whole 19th century…the celebration was planned, above all, to demonstrate the extent and power of the British Empire and the unity and loyalty of all its constituent members, simultaneous demonstrations were held in all the British colonies and dependencies…”
The Life of Queen Victoria and the story of her reign, Charles Morris, LL.D., 1901.

Tremendous pomp and circumstance were awarded Queen Elizabeth’s great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria on her Golden and Diamond Jubilees. In the Windsor/Walkerville area, celebrations for Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 were planned long in advance and were much anticipated. Walkerville was decorated with Union Jacks and ribbons; there was a lavish parade, a message to her Canadian subjects from the Queen herself, and a cornerstone ceremony for a beautiful fountain designed by the eminent American architect Albert Kahn.

Once prominently displayed near the foot of Second Street in Olde Walkerville (now Devonshire Road), in front of the terminus Hiram Walker had built for his Lake Erie & Detroit River Railway, (read about it here) the Diamond Jubilee Fountain, or Victoria Fountain as it is known today, has been through the mill since its dedication.

Moved to Willistead Park when the train station was torn down, the fountain became neglected and vandalized. It received a face-lift in the 1990s (although its copper crown was never replaced) but remains the target of graffiti taggers and bored kids who like to sit on the steps or on the ledges around the bronze lion, which used to spout water back in the day and there was a little brass cup on a chain so you could wet your whistle. Instead of water the kids these days usually drink something a bit harder.

I Thaw Willistead Manor: A warm spell in February 2011 provided an interesting angle of Victoria Fountain in front of the mansion built for Edward (son of Hiram) and his wife Mary Walker. photo e.weeks

Chances are few people under forty who happen upon the fountain, now tucked behind Willistead Manor, know little of its importance despite the fact that there is an inscription running around the top of the edifice referring to Queen Victoria and her “glorious sixty-year reign”. Not to mention two regional capitals – Victoria and Regina– were named for her (in fact there are more Victorias in Canada than any other place name and supposedly more in this country then any other in the world!).

In Windsor, we have Victoria Avenue, Victoria Public School, the Victoria Park Place condos and the Victoria Tavern, on the corner of Chilver, which was known as Victoria before Walkerville amalgamated with Windsor in 1935 (and was originally Susan but that’s another story) and Brant. (You can read about the Victoria Tavern here.)

And there are lots of females named Victoria. (Sorry, just had to throw that in.)

It’s no secret that Canadians are certifiably ignorant of their history. When combined with the fact that the significance of the Royal family to Canadians has diminished considerably over the last 100 years, is it really not that surprising that one person, when quizzed about the Victoria Fountain, confused it with the Peace Fountain on our waterfront?

A Crash Course on England’s Longest Serving Monarch

She was born at Kensington Palace, London, on May 24, 1819, the only daughter of Edward, Duke of Kent, fourth son of George III. Edward died eight months after her birth and she became heir to the throne because the three uncles who were ahead of her in succession had no legitimate children who survived.

Following her uncle William IV’s death, Queen Victoria was crowned in 1837 only a few days after turning eighteen. Her reign marked the beginning of a transformation for the British monarchy. She was faced with the task of defining a new role for the monarchy amidst a changing government. The crown retained the right to be consulted and to advise on all parliamentary matters. She was quite diligent in attending to this duty and as a result successfully maintained the influence and strength of the monarchy.

In 1840, she married her cousin Prince Albert and they had nine children between 1840 and 1857. Most of her children married into other royal families of Europe.

There were many milestones reached during Queen Victoria’s dominion. Amongst them were the first national postal system, “The Penny Post”, in 1840, compulsory education for all children in 1870, and the creation of the title Empress of India which all future British sovereigns would also hold until India gained independence in 1947. Victoria also has the distinction of being Britain’s longest-reigning monarch thus far, and ruler of the largest empire in history – “an empire upon which the sun never set”. …

By the way, it started to pour as I finished writing this post.

You can read the rest of The Walkerville Times article here.

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Who’s On First? The Walkerville Chicks, that’s who.

It’s kind of fun checking my blog’s stats to see how people find it. Now, before you think I don’t get out much, I have to say in my defence that that is simply not the case. I do get out, but perhaps not enough. I must spend an inordinate amount of time on the computer due to my work so I can’t resist sneaking peeks every now and again. (And I’m trying very hard not to get obsessive about it.)

This week I’m seeing a number of visits from people apparently hunting for stories about a great local baseball team from long ago called “The Walkerville Chicks”. Perhaps this could have a little something to do with the fact that despite the weird weather – hot for two days and back to cold and rain, it is indeed spring when people either watch or play baseball until the late fall when it starts to snow again.

Or perhaps, the way this year is going, it will start to snow in the late summer. (I can’t resist inserting here what a facebook friend wrote today: “Mother Nature is going through Menopause and she’s forgotten to take her Black Cohosh and JUST BECAUSE SHE’S HAVING HOT FLASHES DOESN’T MEAN WE ALL HAVE TO SUFFER.”)

Now, where was I? Ah yes, we just happened to have published a letter from a reader in our March 2001 edition of The Walkerville Times whose dad played infield on that glorious team, and whose grandmother saved every newspaper article about them.

So here you go all you people wondering about the good ole’ days when guys were Chicks.

Walkerville’s Baseball Team

On the trail of triumph tomorrow, this veteran hurler, Jack Smith of the Chicks, will be at work against Steve Paris Shines, attempting to set the Windsorites back in the second game of the Southern Ontario baseball play-off. Facing him, for the Shines, will be the youngest ball player in the game, Dave Kay, clever Windsor right hander.

Back in the 1920s, there was a semi-professional baseball team in Walkerville sponsored by a very successful local businessman named Thomas Chick [who owned Chick Construction and was responsible for paving many of Windsor’s roads back in the day]. Called “The Walkerville Chicks,” they were quite a sensation.

My father, Charlie Gatecliff, played infield. He was a good player and my grandmother collected hundreds of newspaper articles about him and the team. For over 50 years they were stored away.

Reading many of these articles and studying the pictures of these earnest looking young men, I came to realize that these articles are about more than just a baseball team. They are stories about Walkerville and its people. These young guys were having the time of their lives; baseball was their great love and they were good at it.

They knew the value of hard work, fair play, teamwork, giving it your all, while playing in tough conditions.

One article described the Chicks playing in the snow when the season ran unusually long due to playoff games; another mentioned how spectators turned on their car lights to illuminate the field when a game continued after sunset.

The Chicks were subject to the baseball politics of the day when games were delayed or the opponents didn’t show. They played with primitive equipment and without a team doctor — when they were injured they kept right on playing.

The former Windsor battery that put Walkerville out of the 1927 race carried the Chicks to victory at Strathroy on Saturday. Bill Bernie, inset, blew his fast ball past the batters for nine innings and should have had a shutout if not a no-hit game. "Tal" Johnson, his catcher, led the clouters for the afternoon with two triples, a double and a single. Both may be in action against Niagara Falls here on Wednesday.

They often attracted huge crowds for the big game — one report noted that 5,000 people attended a play-off game and that the townspeople from small towns enroute to the tournament, stood by the side of the road and cheered them — even after they had beaten their home team! They were local heroes and pioneers of the game, the team few could beat.

The Chicks stayed on top by recruiting the best players from the area. Prospects developed their skills by playing on a junior team called the “Chicklets.”

My father’s baseball career ended when he broke his leg trying out for a spot on a professional baseball team. He never shared this part of his life with me — being a kid I never thought to ask him about himself.

The articles end in the fall of 1929. I am left with many questions: Whatever became of the Chicks? How long did they continue to play as a team? Did any of the guys ever make it to the major leagues? Were the Chicks one of the many casualties of the Depression?

Even if the players were unable to make it to a big league ball team, they were “big leaguers” to the people of Walkerville.

Mary Feldott, Windsor

As was usually the case when we produced The Walkerville Times (which morphed into The Times Magazine) one story led to another. After Mary’s letter appeared, another reader wrote:

I have recently moved back into Windsor after living 40 years in Toronto. In the summer I happened upon a copy of your paper. Imagine my surprise when I read about the Walkerville Chicks, a team my dad Lori (Spear) Carnegie played 1st base for in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Patricia Carnegie, Windsor

If you’d like to get a copy of our best selling local history book, “Best of The Times”, which features this story as well as tales about other great local sports teams and heroes, you’d better hurry because a lot of people have beaten you to it. You can still get a copy at Indigo Books in St. Clair Beach, Juniper Books on Ottawa Street near Kildare in Olde Walkerville, Bergeron Art and Frame Shop in Olde Riverside at 5640 Wyandotte St. E., or through our website.

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Love, Enchantment and Mystery at The Capitol Theatre

Front of the House: The Magnificent Capitol Theatre 1948

Opened in 1920 as Loew’s Windsor Theatre, the Capitol Theatre in downtown Windsor has had many ups and downs. Just out of bankruptcy on Jan. 31st, it is now owned and operated by the city of Windsor until a partner is found to take over operations. Why the city wouldn’t keep on the very capable team of David Asher and Gayle Allen, who had been running the theatre for years, is a mystery. Get this: their love for the Capitol is so intense they actually donate their time to assist the people the city put in their place.

Peter Pan and his Lost Boys build a house for their injured mother Wendy: Capitol Theatre 5/13/11 (photo e.weeks)

Thanks to the hard work of the moms, dads, grand parents, kids and other tireless volunteers from various local theatre groups, the show still goes on.

Currently, the Riverfront Theatre Co., a non-profit youth troupe, is performing Peter Pan – The Musical. I attended opening night and found it enchanting. The 50 kids, aged 5 – 18, were all wonderful though I have to admit I was especially partial to Wendy (played by my daughter Rosalie). There are three more public shows next weekend: click info if you’d like to go.

Here’s a different kind of love story involving the Capitol courtesy of a reader who worked there when the theatre was packing them in for the latest movie craze: talking pictures!

Love at the Talkies

by Al Langford, Windsor

If you were 19 years old and looking for a job during the Depression years, you were very lucky if you found one. If you found your sweetheart at the same time, you were twice blessed.

In September of 1931 (two years into the Great Depression, which lasted until 1939) the Capitol Theater in downtown Windsor on University at Pelissier advertised for a staff of ushers, cashiers, cleaning staff, etc. It had recently been taken over and refurbished by the Famous Players Company.

I was one of the many who gathered on Pelissier Street for interviews. When I say “many” I mean there was a mob scene estimated to be over 150 people (there is an excellent write-up of the gala re-opening in the Border Cities Star, Sept.18, 1931.)

Connie Spencer was the new manager. His wife (I forget her name) was a “looker.” She supervised us guys and designed our spiffy uniforms.

The angels or the tooth fairy must have been looking after me, because I got a job as an usher. I can’t recall what it paid, this many years later, but I know it was under 50¢ an hour (when I worked at Chrysler’s in about 1934, we were paid 65¢ an hour.) As far as I can remember some of the other lucky ones were Jim Hayward, Stewart Love, Art Ducharme and Jack Marcon. Stewart was the ticket taker (he wore a special hat).

We wore short jackets, which had sleeves large enough to conceal the ever-present flashlight. The well-starched dickies had a bad habit of popping out of the jacket at embarrassing times.

That year, all of us posed for a picture to urge people to mail their Christmas parcels early. I remember Archie McPherson as the backstage honcho.

Newly met: May and Al in 1931

The Capitol was a very busy place that fall and winter; we had a full house almost every weekend. There was seating for almost 2,000 people. The movies were quite good too. We ushers heard them so often we could recite the heroes’ lines word for word.

Now for the love angle! The new cashier was May Pfahler, who was formerly the cashier at the Tivoli Theater in Walkerville where she looked like an animated doll in the ticket booth! Her boss had been J.J. “Dapper Joe” Lefaive. Joe always had a fresh flower in the lapel of his jacket.

I had my eyes on her the moment I saw her and man, did I have competition. The assistant manager John Heggie was smitten by her and so was Al Dunwoodie (one of the cleaning staff). I also remember an old geezer who used to come to the Capitol quite often and stand at the wicket to make small talk and moves on my sweetie. I had my work cut out for me because I wasn’t any better looking than they were.

One word best described May: “HUGGABLE.” She was petite, five feet nothing, maybe 105 pounds. Lots of fun, but could be deep and profound. One of her prized possessions was the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam; she could recite many of its passages. She read “Gone With The Wind” at least four times.

Al and May while he was serving in the air force during WWII: 1943

We had a wonderful life together. Ups and downs? You bet! She and the kids (two girls and a boy) travelled with me all over the training stations in Ontario and Quebec while I was in the R.C.A.F.Our romance blossomed and we dated for quite a while (it was tough trying to get married on an usher’s wages). Finally, on July 6th, 1935 she said yes and we got married.

It was rather odd that May and I hadn’t met while we went to school. May lived on Hall Avenue and I lived on Moy Avenue, the next street over. She had to walk a long way south to John Campbell while I had to walk east to King Edward. She was a top student at the Windsor Business College (so she knew how to keep my spending habits to a minimum). As I said, we have three wonderful children, 12 grand ones, and 13 great grand ones.

With regret, I have to add a very sad note to this story. My beloved passed away in December 2002, leaving a monstrous void in my life. I’d like to recite to her the last two lines of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29:

“For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings, that then I scorn to change my place with Kings.”

Al’s story is from our Feb. 2004 edition of The Times Magazine. For more photos and info on history of The Capitol Theatre go here and go here to read more about Windsor in its heyday. We are almost sold out of our book, “Best of The Times”, which is based on our local history publications, The Walkerville Times and The Times Magazine. Click here to learn how you can get one – before it’s history!

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BULL THE BOOTLEGGER: Our Noisy 1920s Neighbour

The Windsor area was a hot bed of rum running activity (graphic Walkerville Publishing)

Another great story from “Was I Ever Lucky”, a memoir I am editing for long-time Windsorite, Barbara Kersey (née MacDonald).

When my father, mother, little brother and I first came to Windsor from Nova Scotia in the mid-1920s, we lived in a small home on Moy Avenue between Giles and what was then Huron Street. (In 1935, when Walkerville amalgamated with Windsor, Huron became known as Richmond Street.)

Prohibition was in full force. This was the period in history in which the manufacture, sale and transportation of intoxicating liquors was outlawed. In Michigan, it lasted from 1919 until 1933 while in Ontario it ran from 1917 to 1930.

In Windsor, where alcohol continued to be made for export just one mile away from Detroit, some Windsorites made fortunes “rum-running” on the Detroit River.

Across the alley and down a bit from our house lived a family that one could safely say were not your typical neighbours. We never got to know them personally but they were very familiar to everyone in the neighbourhood. The father’s name was Bull, which suited him perfectly; he was a big man in size and reputation. The few times I saw him he never smiled.

Bull had an enormous garage at the back of the property, which was rumored to be full of liquor. It was said he was a big time bootlegger.

Often at night our family was awakened by the sound of gunfire and then police sirens, followed by frantic activity in the alley.

Sure enough, Bull’s men were returning from a run to the Detroit River, only a few blocks away, where they had made a liquor delivery to someone running it across the border. The police were in hot pursuit!

Working for Bull was certainly a hazardous occupation.

For the MacDonald family, it was all very mind boggling and a far cry from our quiet Nova Scotia farm.


To read more about prohibition and Windsor’s crazy rum-running history, check out my article: “Windsor Went Wild in the Roaring Twenties.” 

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Mother, may I take three giant steps?

Mom and Dad get married, 1942

I lost my mother 13 years ago. We weren’t particularly close (long story) but I loved her and I now appreciate everything she endured and achieved, including having come of age during the Great Depression. Her family was well to do until the crash of 1929. Then her father died.

Mom and her four siblings had no choice but to go to work. Gone were my mother’s dreams of attending McGill (she had won a scholarship). Instead she enrolled in a quickie secretarial course (graduated top of her class) so she could take any office jobs that could be had.

She married my dad during World War II. Soon my twin sisters were born and a couple of years later, the family packed up and relocated to Windsor from Montreal. The move occurred within weeks of her own mother’s death.

How incredibly difficult that must have been for her. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have been like to travel all that way by car on rudimentary highways, with two restless little girls in the back seat while grieving for your mother.

And then to arrive in Windsor just after war’s end – a far cry from the exciting cosmopolitan city of Montreal.

I’m not sure if they knew anyone here (hopefully they had a few contacts) but no matter what, it must have been excruciatingly difficult and sad for my mother to adjust and somehow cope with the stress of moving so far, the loss of her mother, while looking after a home and two toddlers, without a support system.

Mom and Dad with the twins Barbara and Carolyn and newborn Howard in a Windsor park on the Detroit River around 1948.

Some of this family history was unknown to me until recently. We are planning a mini-reunion of the six kids and their families and significant others this summer, and everyone has been posting long forgotten photos of mom and dad, aunts, uncles, grandparents and the six of us throughout our youth.

The photos have jump started my older siblings memories and slowly, over the months, snippets of our family’s history have been added underneath the black and white photos. Reading these comments has not only given me a fresh sense of where I’ve come from but a greater appreciation of my mother.

One of my favorite games when I was little was “Mother, May I.” I’m not sure if kids play this game today. I don’t remember seeing my own kids play it, which is unfortunate as it was fun. For those unfamiliar with the game, this is how it’s played:

One person is “Mom” and stands facing away from a line of kids. She then chooses a child (at random, or in order), and orders the others to take a certain number of steps. These follow a pattern, such as, “Brian, you may take x number of giant/regular/baby steps forward/backward.”

The child responds with “Mother may I?” Mom then states, “Yes” or “No”, depending on her whim, and the child complies. If the child forgets to ask “Mother may I?” he/she goes back to the starting line. First one to touch Mother wins.

A variation is when each child takes turns asking, “Mother may I take x number of steps?” The child who was mother replied yes or no. In addition to baby, regular, and giant steps, there were even ballet steps which were like fake ballet turns. (My source for this info here.)

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. I will celebrate my mother. I will recognize that her great strength courses through my veins and helps me take giant steps to advocate for not only what I believe in, but to cope with the ups and downs of raising my own family.

Thanks Mom! I love you.

post script: After reading this story, my sister Brenda sent me the following comment:

“Shortly after this photo was taken, Baby Howard caught a cold from the twins and spent three weeks in hospital. It was touch and go for a while. Mum dutifully sent breast milk for him delivered by Dad.”

Another significant piece of family history that I wasn’t aware of and yet more proof that Mom was an amazing person. (Dad was pretty amazing too.) So glad that Howard pulled through.

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A Woman’s Work is Never Done: Walkerville early 1900s

at least I'm not stuck inside over a hot cook stove

On a warm summer’s day, somewhere in Olde Walkerville, a woman brings a chair outside to shell her peas, or snap her beans, or perhaps take down the wash. Sitting regally, she observes the camera and the person taking her photo with a serene but ever so slightly perturbed look that says, “I’d much prefer you took my photo when I am all dressed up for church, but if you must, you must.”

We can only speculate the why, the who and exactly when and where in Walkerville this lovely portrait was taken.

A woman at work, captured for all eternity.

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The Windsor Connection: Kate & Will Wed on Special Anniversary

Windsor WWII Bob Upcott flew a Lancaster on April 29, 1945 into war-torn Holland to help save thousands of Dutch lives. (photo Ronald Blaine Fluhrer)

Watching the marriage of Kate and William today, I was thrilled to see one of the world’s last Lancasters fly in formation over London. For most of the Canadians in the crowds around Buckingham Palace or watching on tv, the significance of this flight might not have been apparent.

In the very early morning of April 29, 1945, exactly 66 years before, two Lancasters lifted off from their base in England to fly in bad weather to occupied Holland. They were on a mission of mercy.

Both planes were loaded with sacks of flour, egg powder, powdered milk and tins of dark chocolate intended for the people of Western Holland who had suffered through a long Nazi occupation as well as a terribly harsh winter. Tens of thousands had died of starvation during the winter and spring and others were subsisting on whatever food they could scavenge, sometimes only sugar beets and tulip bulbs.

The first Lancaster to reach the shoreline was “Bad Penny”, flown by 21-year-old Captain Robert F. Upcott of Windsor, Ontario.

As in the old expression, “… like a bad penny, it keeps coming back”, Upcott and his crew (comprised of four other Canadians and two Brits) returned safely from their flight over enemy territory after “bombing” a targeted field with their load of food. Their successful test run served to launch the Allies’ “Operation Manna;” over 11,000 tons of food was dropped in 10 days during the mission – another signal to Nazi Germany that it was losing the war.

Chuck Rees, graphic designer for Walkerville Publishing, created this composite photo of the Bad Penny crew. Pilot Bob Upcott stands second from right and Wireless Operator stands far left.

Stan Jones, Wireless Operator on Bad Penny, recalled that Pilot Bob was exceedingly calm under fire and to steady his nerves, always chewed gum during their missions. He was very quick witted and on their test flight to Holland to drop food bundles, not only did Bob have to fly at certain times with German guns trained on them, he had to fly through heavy clouds over England. At one point, an American Flying Fortress appeared on the starboard wing on a collision course. Fortunately, Bob dove and the U.S. plane pulled up, missing a collision by inches!

After the war, Bob Upcott returned to Windsor, where he worked for the City of Windsor. He died August 27, 2001 at the age of 78.

A few years later, Glen Mitchell published the children’s book, “A Bad Penny Always Comes Back”, to keep the story of Pilot Bob Upcott and his Lancaster alive. His book and accompanying puzzle are available at Juniper Books in Windsor, in the gift shop at Windsor Airport, or online through the book’s website. Each purchase helps volunteers of the Canadian Historical Aircraft Association restore Windsor’s Lancaster, which has been moved to Windsor Airport.

Last year, to mark the 65th anniversary of Bad Penny’s historic flight, I thought it would be exciting to use Skype to connect Windsor children with children in the Netherlands who look after a monument built to commemorate Operation Manna. Here is a video made by the Amsterdam based book p.r. firm Uphill Battle of celebrations at the Dutch school and the Skype call between some of their students and students at Central Public School in Windsor. Here’s Walkerville Publishing’s video of how the Skype call looked from our side of the Atlantic.

You can continue reading about the flight of Bad Penny at NowPublic.com and more about how Bad Penny is remembered in The Netherlands here.

Rosalie turns 17. Kate and Will get married. 66th anniversary of Operation Manna. So much to celebrate!

And last but not least, it was my daughter’s 17th birthday today.

Happy Birthday dear Rosalie!

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The Big Race: Walkerville 1896

Chas Fox was in it to win it

One hundred and fifteen years ago, whisky baron Hiram Walker’s company town of Walkerville, Ontario was positively booming.

Enjoy Charlie Fox’s fascinating look back at those heddy days when his father cycled the race of his life. 

An air of excitement spread through Walkerville on that Saturday, August 1st, 1896, for, along with the usual Civic Holiday festivities, it was the occasion of the 5th annual ten-mile road race sponsored by the Walkerville Wheelmen bicycle club.

Long before the 4 pm starting time the good-natured crowd from all over the Border Cities began arriving at the starting line on Walker Road in front of the planing mill. Young gentlemen in straw hats and young ladies in long skirts and white shirtwaists found plenty to talk about while waiting for the festivities to commence.

The editor of the Walkerville Herald circulated among the townsfolk, greeting subscribers and taking notes for the forthcoming edition. The town’s chief constable, meanwhile, kept a fatherly eye on some of the more exuberant youngsters.

Although a strong south-easterly wind had blown away the rain clouds which had been lingering over the district, and which had caused postponement of the race a week earlier, the day was not considered ideal for racing, since the course was still rather muddy.

While the 16 entrants made final adjustments to their cycles, and the officers of the meet consulted and made sure all was in readiness, spectators perused the club’s program (printed by Ladore and Company, First Street, Walkerville, Phone 666) which listed the entrants, the prizes, and advertisements for local enterprises such as Robert Weir “The up-to-date gents outfitter, suits to order, from $12.00 up”.

The major prize of the day was a Waltham gold watch, to be presented to the rider making the fastest time over the ten-mile course. Other prizes included a gold ring donated by jeweler Fred White, bicycle shoes by A. D. Bolby, and a bicycle lamp for the first man to finish on a Pulford and Ellis wheel.

Bicycle racing was taken rather seriously in those carefree days before television, income tax, and the National Hockey League. A young man who worked ten long hours for two dollars was inclined to consider carefully before spending one hundred and ten dollars for a new Cleveland Model 24 racing bicycle. The entry fee to the road race alone was half a day’s pay.

In order to give cyclists of varying experience a somewhat equal chance, and to make the finish more interesting, the race was run on a handicap basis. The handicappers for the day were Messers E. Chater, H.O. Kerr, and N. B. Vrooman. Several of the novice riders had attracted attention for their performance during practice, and the spectators felt that an exciting race was in store.

As the starting time approached the riders assembled at the line. Clerk of the Course Harry Almson reminded everyone of the rules and Starter Tom Reid took up his position. The Timers for the day were F.J.  Miller, Fred White, and A.D. Bowlby.

At four o’clock the first rider, Louis N. Quick, pushed off on his Cleveland Roadster and peddled up Walker Road. He gained speed as he passed the Walkerville Brewery and the Farmers’ Rest and disappeared into the country.

William Livingston followed him immediately and thirty seconds later, A. Churchill was sent away. At 4:01 A.D. Green and Sydney Bird were started. Another thirty seconds passed and five riders, Harry Flowers, H.D. Johnson, W.H. Isaacs, Ed. Kerr and W.B. Revell peddled away. At 4:02 Tom Webster was allowed to go, followed in thirty seconds by Walter Chater. It was 4:04 when E.A. Hoare was sent off. Jim Douglas followed at 4:05, and the two scratch men, Chas. Fox and Art Robinson at 4:07.

As the last of the racers disappeared the crowd moved north across the Grand Trunk Railway, passed between the police station and the fire hall, and then east on Sandwich Street to the finish line in front of the new offices of Hiram Walker and Sons Ltd.

The riders, battling a strong head-wind, passed the scattered homes and approached the red brick houses that marked the intersection with the Tecumseh Road. A far cry from the present paved thoroughfare, the Tecumseh Road, rain softened and rutted, kept the riders on their toes. The brave man who risked a look over his shoulder to see how closely he was being pressed was likely to find himself suffering a severe case of gravel rash.

At the intersection with the Lauzon Road the riders, one by one, made a quick left turn and, with the wind finally at their backs, began the dash to the river. Here was a disconsolate cyclist by the side of the road. W.B. Revell, his tire punctured, was out of the race. He waved encouragement to the more fortunate competitors as they peddled past.

As the river road loomed ahead the skill of the handicappers was appearing. The riders were beginning to bunch up as they wheeled around the corner and started down the twisting home stretch. Excitement reigned at the finish line as the first rider appeared, followed at an interval of fifty feet by the second.

The aptly named Louis Quick crossed the finish line at 4:31:38, with Johnson two seconds behind. Kerr arrived twelve seconds later, and after an interval of a minute Isaacs took fourth place. Tom Webster arrived next, followed by Green, Churchill and Chater.

Tension mounted now as the two scratch men came into view. As they approached the finish line Fox had a slight lead, but Robinson slowly gained ground and they hit the tape together. While the early finishers were accepting well earned congratulations from their friends, and the runners-up were straggling home, the judges, J.H. Walker, H. Ellis and H.L. Rothwell, went into a huddle on the results, and the prizes were awarded.

Quick received a diamond ring, Johnson won a mantle clock, and further down the list Walter Chater took a lot of kidding when he accepted, for eighth place, the keg of beer donated by Chas J. Stodgell.

Then, after another huddle, the judges made a decision. There being a dead heat at 29 minutes, 40 seconds for the fastest time of the day, there would be a run off between Chas Fox and Art Robinson to determine the winner, and this would take place on Tuesday, August 4 at 6:30 P.M.

After this announcement the crowd began to drift away. In Walkerville kitchens kettles were singing and pots were sizzling, and in many a Walkerville parlor that evening the young folk gathered around the piano to conclude their holiday by singing the Stephen Foster favorites and listening to the talented young lady of the household pick out “To a Wild Rose” and “The Swan of Tuonela”.

And the winner? Well the result was almost an anti-climax. When the officials assembled at the planing mill on Tuesday evening, Art Robinson decided not to start. Charlie Fox, the young Sweaburg carpenter, went over the course by himself in 29:30, lowering the record by ten seconds. He was forthwith presented with the Waltham gold watch, which he used throughout the rest of his life.

It is now a treasured heirloom, still running, and keeping as good time as on that summer afternoon, long ago when Walkerville had the Big Race.

Charles E. Fox

To read more about the booming days of Walkerville, read here

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Nuts in May: Kids at play, 1900s

Will you play "Nuts In May" with me?

I have no idea where in Windsor or Walkerville this charming photo was taken, but it is certainly a fascinating capture of not only a neighbourhood in the making, but of one of its little denizens who looks eager to find someone to play with. And believe it or not, she is not dressed in her Sunday best.

Girls’ fashion for this time period imitated older women of the same period. Girls wore dresses of knee length, with short sleeves that were more suitable for playing. Normally, black shoes and woolen stockings went with the dress. Their hair was generally worn long and curly with decorations of ribbon.

It’s hard to imagine how modern children would amuse themselves in this little girl’s day. There were no computers, video games, or TV, but somehow kids in the early 1900s managed to have hours of fun. Their play things were simple toys and games that were passed down from previous generations. For most families, there was no money for expensive toys, and the adults were usually too busy to play with them. In the cities, there was little or no traffic, so the street or the alley was their playground.

Children of rich parents would have owned beautiful dolls, clockwork toys and regiments of tin soldiers, while those from poorer families played with stones and bits of rubbish, or used a piece of rope to skip with. Cheap toys included wooden tops, marbles, yo-yos and wooden hoops, which were rolled with a stick called a dowel.

Children got plenty of exercise as many of their games involved playing outdoors. Groups of kids would gather to play tag, leapfrog, hopscotch and games like “Come With Me.” To play, the children formed a circle. The person who was “it” ran around the circle. He touched someone on the back and said: “Come with me!” The two then ran in opposite directions around the circle. When they met, they clasped hands, swung their arms in the air once and raced for the vacant space. The child who got there first stayed put while the other became “it.”

Other popular games played in the 1900s revolved around songs, such as “Oranges And Lemons,” where two children become a “chopper” by forming an arch with their arms. The other children ran through the arch, singing the rhyme as they went. The song ended with the words “chop, chop, chop, chop the last man’s head” and at that point the “chopper” was brought down and the child caught in it is out chose to be an orange or a lemon. When everyone was out, the oranges had a tug-o-war match with the lemons.

Another game, called “Nuts In May”, involved a line with a row of children standing on either side of it. The children sang the song “Nuts in May” and at the end of the song, with the words “We’re sending [a child’s name] to fetch her away”, the named child stepped onto the line and tried to pull the child standing opposite over it. If he succeeded, the other child was out. The game continued until only one child was left. That child was the winner.

1900s children often made their own toys. Girls would raid their mother’s sewing box to make dolls, either by dressing wooden pegs with hand stitched clothes or by making rag dolls, with buttons for eyes and embroidered mouths. Boys would fashion swords from sticks or make slings using forked sticks and a piece of elastic. These would be used to fire small stones. Looping pieces of string through a tin can made stilts; the child would stand on the cans and hold onto the string as he walked. Many children made their own scrapbooks using old greetings cards, newspaper clippings or pieces cut from religious magazines.

Read more here.

One of our Walkerville Times columnists, Al Roach, a retired Lowe Tech teacher and author, provided us with his tale written in the 1990s where he compared his “deprived” childhood in the 1930s to the kids 60 years later:

The Alleys of Our Youth

by Al Roach

I had a disadvantaged childhood. What’s the use of trying to conceal it? I admit it frankly. And every one of my friends was similarly deprived.

We attended no antiseptic daycare centres, we were not driven to school on rainy days, we swam in no ceramic-tiled swimming pools, we flew to no vacations in Switzerland, we did not live in air-conditioned homes, we had no manicured lawns to keep off of.

We had no organized little leagues and no expensive tax supported playgrounds, we rode no $2,000 ten-speed Pugeots, we owned no record collections of Led Zeppelin, we ate no store-bought cookies.

We were deprived. …

Read on here.

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Flap on… Flap off… The Flapper: Roaring 1920s Windsor

Ain’t I the bees’ knees? 

Before the start of World War I, the Gibson Girl was all the rage. This elegant, willowy image of feminine beauty was inspired by the drawings of illustrator Charles Dana Gibson. She wore her long hair loosely on top of her head and wore a long straight skirt and a shirt with a high collar. She was feminine but also broke through gender barriers as her attire allowed her to participate in sports like golf, roller skating, and bicycling.

Gibson Girls did not date; a girl waited until a proper young man formally paid her interest with suitable intentions (i.e. marriage). However, nearly a whole generation of young men had died in the war, leaving almost an entire generation of young women without possible suitors. Young women decided they were not willing to waste away their young lives waiting idly for spinsterhood; they were going to enjoy life.

Let’s hear it for the “Flapper”!

In the 1920s, a new woman was born. She smoked, drank, danced, and voted. She cut her hair, wore make-up, and went to petting parties. She was giddy and took risks. She was a flapper.

The term “flapper” first appeared in Great Britain after World War I where it was used to describe young girls, still somewhat awkward in movement who had not yet entered womanhood. In the June 1922 edition of the Atlantic Monthly, G. Stanley Hall described his efforts to understand the term. By looking it up in a dictionary he learned it a flapper was:

 …. a fledgling, yet in the nest, and vainly attempting to fly while its wings have only pinfeathers; and I recognized that the genius of ‘slanguage’ had made the squab the symbol of budding girlhood.

The twenties were the first decade to emphasize youth culture over the older generations, and the flapper sub-culture had a tremendous influence on mainstream America; many new words and phrases were coined by these liberated women and many of these are still used today.

Pictured above is an anonymous Windsor, Ontario flapper (photo courtesy Charlie Fox) perched on her Big Six’s (flapper slang for a strong man borrowed from auto advertising for the new and powerful six cylinder engines) sporty new roadster, or perhaps it’s actually her Dapper’s (aka dad’s) family car.

We may never know, but we can definitely tell she’s all dressed up and has somewhere to go.

Read more about the wild and wonderful days of the “Roaring Twenties” as well local tales of rum running and Prohibition on our archive site, walkervilletimes.com here. The above photo and 130 other fascinating old photos of Windsor appears in our new local history book: “Windsor Then” available at Juniper Books on Ottawa Street near Argyle, the Art Gallery of Windsor gift shop, the University of Windsor Bookstore, From the Heart Gifts on Ottawa near Hall,  Page 233 in Amerstburg, Unique Gifts in Essex, or through me: elaine@walkerville.com, or online here.

Research for this story came from:



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Mystery Lady of Walkerville

Do You Like My Fur?

Long-time Walkerville resident Charlie Fox sent me a bunch of old photos. Here is one that I particularly like. He doesn’t know who the lady is but she is definitely warm and looking stylish!

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5000 Ways You Know You’re From Detroit

Our latest local history book is a Blast from the Past!

Released in the fall of 2017, 5000 Ways You Know You’re From Detroit is our seventh title celebrating the history of border cities of Detroit and Windsor.

At a whopping 480 pages, with over 1400 photos and illustrations about Detroit and area’s babyboomer years, this is no ordinary coffee table book. Branden Hunter, a reporter for the Michigan Chronicle, says, “... it might be the greatest book on the city I’ve ever read!”

3d cover

belle isle sign 55 color.jpgboblo dock.jpg

concept car.jpg

But honey, where will we put the children?

5000 Ways You Know You’re From Detroit is available at many fine retailers in Detroit and Windsor. You can find the full list on the book website: detroit5000.com, order direct from the authors via that same site, or order through Amazon.

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1849: Detroit Helps Windsor Fight Fire

‘Cause we’re neighbours, right?

All that separates Detroit, Michigan, and Windsor, Ontario is a one-mile wide river. Today, it’s spanned by the Ambassador Bridge and connected below the river by two tunnels: one for trains and one for vehicles. Back in 1849, tiny ferry boats were relied upon to bring passengers, horses, and freight across the river. As the border cities grew, Detroit sent firefighters and equipment across the river whenever Windsor was threatened by their common foe — fire.

aerial detroit windsor 1955 postcard

Postcard of  hand-tinted photo of aerial photo of Windsor showing Detroit across the river – 1955

After one particular fire in Windsor in 1849, the townspeople were so grateful, they presented the Detroit Fire Department with a decorated speaking trumpet. In those days, trumpets were used by fire chiefs to direct vocal commands to firefighters so they could be heard above roaring fires and the loud noises made by firefighting equipment. Normally these were brass, but the trumpet presented to Detroit’s fire chief was made of fine, engraved silver.

The following are excerpts from an article on the Windsor Fire & Rescue Services website describing some history of our two cities helping each other fight fires and how much that service is appreciated:

“On a sunny April morning in 1969, there was a unique historical ceremony at the international boundary line in the middle of the Ambassador Bridge — the arching ribbon of steel and concrete that spans the Detroit River, connecting the border cities. It was 120 years ago that very day that most of Windsor’s business district lay in ashes. The bustling village had barely survived the most disastrous fire in its history. Had it not been for the bravery of the firemen of neighboring Detroit, all of Windsor would likely have burned to the ground.


silver fire trumpet returned to windsor 1969

Detroit Fire Chief Quinton returned a silver speaking trumpet to Windsor Fire Chief Coxon in middle of the Ambassador Bridge symbolizing the link between the Canadian & U.S. cities: 1969

Shortly after 1:00 a.m. on the bitterly cold night of April 16, 1849, the bell in the tower of the old Presbyterian church in downtown Windsor pealed out its dreaded alarm of fire. The huge brick Dougall warehouse on Riverside Dr. E. at Ferry St., where the Cleary Auditorium (now the St. Clair College Centre For The Arts and Chrysler Theatre) now stands, was a seething mass of flames. Whipped by a strong northwest wind, the flames leaped across Ferry St. and enveloped building after building. The entire Detroit volunteer fire brigade rushed to the waterfront in awe.

detroit fire teams mid 1800s

undated photo of Detroit fire teams, Detroit News Blog

It was a stroke of fate that only the previous year Detroit Fire Chief William Duncan had made an arrangement with several ferryboat operators that, in the event of a “large and disastrous fire in Windsor, a ferry would be sent and an engine company or two sent over to assist our Canadian neighbors”. Fortunately for Windsor, Chief Duncan kept his word that night. Detroit’s Engine 5, a hand pumper, two hose carts and the men of Engine Companies 4 and 5 were loaded aboard the ferry Hastings and after what was recorded as an “extremely rough voyage” arrived at the Windsor village wharf. Within five minutes the Detroit firemen had hose streams playing on the fire.


Windsor Castle Hotel saved by Detroit firefighters

The blaze was still gaining headway however and was burning toward the large, frame Windsor Castle Hotel on Ouellette Ave. For two hours the Detroit firemen took up a hazardous position between the main fire and the hotel. Their helmets “burned to cinders and their hair and beards singed”, the Detroit volunteers saved the hotel and halted the advance of the flames. They returned to Detroit late the following morning. Windsor’s grateful citizens and firemen presented the elegant ceremonial speaking trumpet to the Detroit firemen on July 2, 1849.


Windsor Fire Department, chief holding silver speaking trumpet

Detroit firefighters and apparatus have crossed the river to fight fires in Windsor many times since that memorable night 166 years ago. No one ever really expected the much-smaller City of Windsor to ever return the favor, but that is precisely what happened in July of 1967 – less than two years before the bridge ceremony — when the Windsor Fire Department immediately responded to pleas from the beleaguered Detroit Fire Department for assistance during the city’s infamous riots.”

first black firefighter in windsor, Eugene Steele (left) helping fight 1967 detroit riot fires

Windsor firefighter Eugene Steele, (left) helped battle fires during the Detroit uprising of 1967 – Windsor Star photo

And most likely, if there were fires of that scale ever again on either side of the border, the respective fire departments would not hesitate to offer assistance.

Because that’s what neighbours do.


(It must be noted that the 1849 blaze was fought by volunteer Detroit and Windsor firefighters. It wasn’t until years later that firefighters were actually paid.) 


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