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, 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:

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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

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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: 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
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:

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

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, ( 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:, 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

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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.

Posted in Fashion, Lost Buildings, People, The Straits, Walkerville, Windsor Now, Windsor Then | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments