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

About Elaine Weeks

How history was taught in my day: memorize lots of boring dates and facts, watch corny old black & white history films. There was one bright spot, however. Grade 9 history at Walkerville Collegiate with Miss Falls (Georgina) when she taught a section on local history and took us on a field trip to explore some of Windsor's built heritage. Due to a series of peculiar events, celebrating local history became part of my business. My company, Walkerville Publishing Inc., (partner is Chris Edwards) launched "The Walkerville Times" in 1999 and we produced 61 issues - the last in 2016. In 2004, we began producing local history books; that year we released "Best of The Times Magazine". Our current titles include 5000 Ways You Know You're From Detroit, 500 Ways You Know You're From Windsor, Walkerville - Whisky Town Extraordinaire, and Windsor Then - A Pictorial Essay of Windsor's Glorious Past. I also wrote a novel, Time Trespasser, that blends time travel with local history. I am working on a sequel. I am a writer, editor, blogger, photographer, mother, wife, sister, activist, traveller, gardener, knitter, glass is nearly full person.
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2 Responses to Dream Cruising to Ford City

  1. selainew says:

    Thanks Mike! I think it would honor the community and history of Ford City while channeling much needed attention and money into that area. The key is planning, publicity and tying it into the Woodward Cruise.

  2. Mike Morency says:

    Awesome article Elaine. I will share it with the staff of the Ford City Renewal Project. Your idea was actually one that the residents identified in my recent Envision Ford City project.

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