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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