During a recent week-long trip to Flint, Michigan, I drove with my family toward the city of Detroit and crossed Detroit River by way of the Ambassador Bridge that connects Detroit to Windsor in Ontario, Canada. There is also a tunnel that connects the two cities, but the bridge offers the more scenic route. Since we had started our journey to the border rather late in the morning, by the time we got through Canadian customs, the time was already about 12:30 p.m. and so we really only had a few hours in the afternoon to see some of the sights around Windsor. The first thing we wanted to do was to take in the view of Detroit from the Canadian side of the river, which we found to be a rather spectacular view. Things often seem to look better from Canada, as I discovered a few years ago when I saw Niagara Falls from the Canadian side. We parked our rental car next to the sculpture garden on Riverside, near to downtown and the Caesars casino building. The riverside in this area features a wide and tastefully landscaped footpath, which some might like to call a corniche (even though the locals probably don’t!).
I’m sure this area must get pretty busy when the weather is warm but we were there on December 26 and there was a cold wind blowing. Fortunately though, it was a bright day with a wide sky arching over the river and city, with only a few streaks of fluffy cloud, which was great for day trippers such as us, who only had a narrow window of time in which to see some of the sights in this city for the first time. The weather contrasted with all the days during our stay in Michigan, which were continuously gray, wet and cold (including a fleeting snowfall). I should add that I had forgotten that December 26 is Boxing Day in Canada, when many businesses are closed for a holiday. Being originally from England, which observes the same holiday, I should have remembered this. But I had completely forgotten about it, which I suppose demonstrates just how long I’ve lived overseas. When I realized this I was concerned that everything would be closed. Even the Canadian immigration officer I spoke to at the border had looked at me with some disbelief in his eyes that we should want to visit his country on this particular holiday. Fortunately, I found my concern to be largely unfounded because there were enough places open to make the trip worthwhile; and which, after all, was only for a few hours.
Looking across the river at Detroit, the downtown skyline was obviously dominated by the GM Global Headquarters building, which served as a reminder that Detroit has been, and remains, a major hub for the U.S. automotive industry, and why Detroit has been known for decades as Motor City. Other buildings that I could see clearly included the David Stott Building, Chrysler House and the 1905 Penobscot Building, one of Detroit’s great historic landmarks, which has 47 floors of office space and represents the center point of the city’s commercial district. This building was named after the Penobscot Indians; a Native American tribe from the North Eastern seaboard territory that sided with the French in their war against the English in the 18th century and later fought on the side of the colonists during the American Revolution. Even though Detroit has become known in recent years as something of a bankrupt “failed city,” and when we drove to the Ambassador Bridge we could see many rundown houses in the neighborhoods either side of the freeway, the perspective I was getting from across the river made it look like a city full of great potential for renewal that could use its historic greatness to once again be an inspiring city. Indeed, over the last few years, efforts have been underway to rejuvenate this city. So perhaps in a few more years, it will once again become a vibrant place that will attract new business and residents. If fact, there is evidence that this is already happening.
After enjoying a walk by the river it was already close to mid-afternoon and we were in the mood for some lunch. I had read about the historic district of Walkerville, which is one of the oldest districts in Windsor and has been undergoing some renewal recently. This district was once a separate town, founded by American distiller Hiram Walker in 1858 according to an architectural walking tour guide published on the official Windsor City website. Walker established a whisky distillery and built a “model town” for his workers in what became Walkerville because of the sentiment against alcohol consumption that developed in the U.S. in the 1850s. The distillery in Walkerville, owned by Hiram Walker & Sons, Ltd. saw its profits shoot upward whenever the U.S. went through periods of prohibition. Of historical interest, Chicago gangster Al Capone used to visit the town during the “Roaring Twenties.” Walkerville became incorporated into the City of Windsor in 1935. I saw some of the old distillery buildings, which still sit prominently on Wyandotte Street East, between Argyle Road and Walker Road.
A place associated with gangsters and profit-making from prohibition in the U.S. might not at first seem like a good place for tourists, and especially families looking for a fun day out, but recently the City of Windsor has been renovating its Olde Walkerville district, and making it a great place for visitors and locals alike to visit for good quality restaurants and shops, as well as for the history of the area. In fact, the new construction and improvements were only completed at the beginning of November 2014. So at least from that point of view, our visit to the city was well timed. We found it to be an ideal area for taking a stroll and enjoying the atmosphere offered by such a historic neighborhood.
We found our lunch destination at Vito’s Pizzeria, at 1731 Wyandotte St. East. Vito’s was full of customers when we got there at about 2:30 p.m. A musician was playing his acoustic guitar and singing songs requested by diners. The food was excellent. It was well presented with tasty and fresh ingredients. I had one of their pizzas, although the restaurant had plenty of food options other than pizza. I can definitely recommend this restaurant to visitors. The venue, food and service were all of a high quality. After we had completed our lunch, we left the restaurant pleasantly full and ready to explore the town a little more, and also hoped that Vito was not a gangster!
From Vito’s we walked east along Wyandotte, past the Gourmet Emporium and then turned right onto Chilver Road. We walked along this road, past some historic homes and King Edward School until we reached Niagara Street. We then turned left until we stood at the entrance to Willistead Park, which contains a Tudor-style house called Willistead Manor. The house dates from 1906 and was built for Edward Chandler Walker, the second son of Hiram Walker, the distillery owner. Mr. Walker died in 1915 and the home was given to the town of Walkerville five years later by the family. Ownership of the home was later transferred to the City of Windsor in 1935. The house looked like a very idealized Tudor design to me, with its half-timber walls, stone window frames and conspicuous rectangular chimneys. Next to the house there was a memorial fountain that was built to celebrate Queen Victoria’s sixtieth year on the throne. The whole area, including the manor house, park, the nearby St. Mary’s Anglican church and other homes in the surrounding neighborhood, looked like some fantasist’s imagining of an English country village. The aesthetic of the English country village obviously held a strong attraction to the people of this town. Information about the house can be viewed on the City of Windsor’s website.
Before we headed back across the border I wanted to stop for some coffee and relaxation before driving the distance back to Flint. We checked Google Maps to try and find a café that might be open on Boxing Day evening. We decided to try Café Teaory at 2065 Wyandotte Street West, near to the University of Windsor and, conveniently for us, close to the entrance to the Ambassador Bridge crossing. Happily, the café was open when we found it and it had a unique character, with modern furniture and décor. I thought it was a nice change from the giant corporate cafes, such as Starbucks. We were the only customers in the café at that time and so after buying our coffees and teas, the owner, Ernie, had time to tell me that the café had been in business for about four years, although he had only owned it since May 2014. According to Ernie, under the previous owner the café had primarily offered “bubble teas” to its customers, which mostly consist of students from the nearby university, but since he took over the café, he had expanded the café’s offerings to more traditional coffees and teas, including espresso and cappuccino, which of course I tried. When I mentioned to him that I currently live in Saudi Arabia, he told me that his café was popular with Saudi students from the university who enjoyed having a local café in which to meet friends and drink coffee.
The “teaory” provides its customers with free Wi-Fi and a good selection of board games. It sells pastries and offers a wide range of bubble teas and a variety of coffees and traditional teas. For more photos of Cafe Teaory, see Elizabeth Walker’s review on the windsorite website. Her review includes several photos from inside the café. The café is located about a block from the university and is surrounded by Asian businesses. The surrounding neighborhood looked to me like a mini Chinatown.
After finishing our drinks we got back in our car and drove to Michigan. It had been an all too brief, but certainly an enjoyable visit to Windsor. The people we had met in the city had been very helpful and friendly, and the city was clean and seemed to be safe (I was given no reason to believe otherwise). I’m sure we will visit again sometime in the future.