Windsor has grown from the coalescing of a chain of separate communities along the Detroit River and Lake St Clair and from spreading inland to the south, and today its Census Metropolitan Area includes the towns of Tecumseh, Essex and LAKESHORE; the village of St Clair Beach; and the townships of Sandwich West and South Maidstone, Rochester and Colchester North.
The area was visited by Jesuit missionaries and French explorers in the 17th century, and permanent settlement followed Cadillac's founding of Detroit. The first land grants for settlement were made in 1749. French settlers were augmented by English-speaking LOYALISTS in the 1780s. By the 1820s the introduction of steamships on Lake Erie, the opening of the Erie Canal and WELLAND CANAL and regular stage service from the east stimulated frontier expansion westward. The ferry connection with Detroit led to the establishment of a small hamlet around the ferry dock. Known variously as the Ferry, Richmond and south Detroit, the community in 1836 agreed upon Windsor, with its Loyalist and British associations.
With the arrival of the GREAT WESTERN RAILWAY in 1854 the village was incorporated; it reached town status 4 years later. Initially, there were barriers to international commerce and travel, eg, a difference of gauge between US and Canadian railways, but in the 1860s standardized gauges and the development of huge ferries capable of transporting entire trains allowed cargoes and passengers to pass directly across the river. By then Windsor had also become a service centre for the surrounding agricultural area. The railway network was completed in 1910 with the opening of a railway tunnel under the river.
Industrial activity began upriver in Walkerville, a company town (inc 1890) developed by Hiram WALKER around his distillery. In 1904 Ford Motor Co of Canada was established just east of Walker's distillery, creating the industry that would become the area's economic lifeline. Through the early 20th century, Ford, General Motors, Chrysler and a host of long-forgotten auto companies and parts plants helped make the area the "Auto Capital of the British Empire."
With hundreds of American firms taking advantage of favourable tariff policies, the area experienced unparalleled prosperity and optimism. The new auto age was capped by the opening of the Ambassador Bridge (1929) - the world's longest international suspension bridge - and the Detroit-Windsor Auto Tunnel (1930) - the only international vehicular tunnel in the world.
The French system of land division had encouraged a stringing out of settlement along the Detroit River. Over time communities were established (Sandwich) or sprang up around some function such as the ferry dock (Windsor), a distillery (Walkerville) or an auto maker's plant (Ford City). The transformation of the industrial base by the auto industry attracted rapid population growth and increased demands for administering the metropolitan area as a single functioning unit.
Plans for zoning, waterfront beautification and other urban improvements were lost on those whose priorities were rebuilding the city's tax base and providing new employment. The short-sighted, development-at-all-costs view resulted in a disillusioning experience with riverfront development, but the community learned a lesson. As a result there has been a heightened community commitment to the riverfront and its protection.
From 21 000 in 1908, population grew to 105 000 in 1928. This rise was almost entirely due to employment offered in the automobile industry. This industrial work force was young, had a high male to female ratio and a high percentage of foreign born. Another attraction was the opportunity of employment in Detroit; in 1927 over 15 000 Windsor residents held jobs there. During the GREAT DEPRESSION unemployment reached 30% of the work force, immigration ceased and the area suffered an outmigration.
Production of war materials during WWII and postwar demand for automobiles meant employment and population gains, but from 1953 to 1962 the number of auto workers dropped to nearly half. In 1965, following a major territorial annexation and the signing of the Autopact, employment was high, and there was a continual flow of immigrants from many lands. The ITALIANS were the largest postwar group and perhaps the most visible, but the Asian population has grown recently. Slightly more than half of the population is Catholic.
A considerable boost was given to the eroding French culture by official national bilingual and bicultural policies with support from Ontario's educational policies. Designated an official bilingual district, Windsor is served by French-language radio and television and by École secondaire l'Essor.
Economy and Labour Force
Windsor is Canada's fifth-largest manufacturing centre. Since its inception the auto industry has set wage and employment patterns for the area. Chrysler, Ford and General Motors continue to invest heavily in Windsor, which augurs well for its future. Chrysler has head offices in Windsor and is the city's largest employer. Windsor also has significant employment in construction, transportation, trade and service industries. Much of the food and beverage industry consists in processing locally grown farm products. Windsor's best-known processor is Hiram Walker and Sons, Ltd, makers of Canadian Club Whisky.
Government and Politics
In the early 20th century, the border community was swept by municipal reform currents from both Canada and the US and experimented with at-large elections, reduction of wards and councillors and commission government.
The entry of labour into municipal politics occurred in 1918 when the local Trades and Labor Congress ran a slate that captured one-third of the council seats. Though labour faltered in the prosperous 1920s, this form of union political action reached its apex in the 1935 election of George Bennett, a trade unionist and CCF member, but it was short-lived. Much of labour's strength was siphoned off in Windsor by 2 remarkable Liberal mayors - David Croll and Arthur Reaume - who dominated local politics from 1930 to 1954.
The economic crisis of the 1950s marked the return to dominance of the structural reformers who implemented city manager government. A very politicized ward system was re-established in 1979 on the assumption that the "city interest" was insensitive to special groups and neighbourhood concerns. Currently there are 5 wards and 10 councillors serving 3-year terms.
Windsor's reputation as a community devoted to the arts is increasingly being recognized. The Art Gallery of Windsor has attained national status; the Cleary Auditorium and Convention Centre is the city's major centre for the performing arts and houses the Windsor Symphony and the Windsor Light Opera. Windsor's stock of interesting and diverse historic architecture includes the Hiram Walker Historical Museum, Mackenzie Hall and Willistead Manor.
Windsor's tradition in higher education began with the establishment in 1857 of Assumption College, which became UNIVERSITY OF WINDSOR (inc 1962), a nondenominational, provincially supported university. St Clair College of Applied Arts and Technology (fd 1967) continues a tradition begun early in this century by F.P. Gavin, a pioneer in technical education.
Windsor's special relationship with Detroit is marked by the Windsor-Detroit International Freedom Festival - a week of co-operative activities and events topped off with a gigantic fireworks display on the Detroit River. Windsor has one major newspaper, the daily Windsor Star, owned by the Southam chain.
Author LARRY L. KULISEK
Links to Other Sites
The website for the Historica-Dominion Institute, parent organization of The Canadian Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. Check out their extensive online feature about the War of 1812, the "Heritage Minutes" video collection, and many other interactive resources concerning Canadian history, culture, and heritage.
The website for the City of Windsor, Ontario. Features virtual walking tours of historic attractions.
War of 1812 in the Western District
An extensive website about the many border conflicts in the western Ontario region during the War of 1812. Check out the video clips and other special features. From the Windsor Public Library and partners.
Ojibway Nature Centre
Explore the history and flora and fauna of the Windsor, Ontario region at this extensive City of Windsor website. Many interesting photographs.
Take a tour of the technology that created the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel in this multimedia Virtual Museum website. Developed by the Windsor Public Library for the Virtual Museum of Canada.
Windsor Public Library
The website for the Windsor Public Library. Click on "Resources" to access the library's "Digital Exhibits."
The official site for the Town of Amherstburg, situated along the Detroit River. Offers a visitors guide to local attractions.
The website for the Town of Lakeshore, Ontario, which was established in 1999 by the amalgamation of the former Town of Belle River and the former Townships of Maidstone, Rochester, Tilbury North and Tilbury West. Click on "History" in the "Discover Lakeshore" section for interesting historical highlights of this region.
Check out the latest local news from the “Windsor Star” newspaper.
War of 1812: Detroit Frontier
Highlights of key battles along the Detroit frontier during the War of 1812. From the Archives of Ontario.
University of Windsor
The University of Windsor website provides the latest news about academic programs and events.
Peter Smith Associates Inc.
Click on the building names to view illustrated descriptions of theatres and galleries designed by Canadian architectural firm Peter Smith Associates Inc.
The website for Jane’s Walk, a network of free walking tours that explore the quality and livability of local neighbourhoods based on ideas espoused by Jane Jacobs. Click on "The Community" to access the latest news and photos on their blog and more. Also, check out "Find Your Walk" for maps and descriptions of local walks throughout the country.