From French farmers to the Battle of Windsor and absentee landlords
ost Windsorites know that the city as we know it is the result of an amalgamation of a handful of former municipalities which occurred in 1935; indeed, “amalgamation” is a nicer word than the traditional “annex.”
The history of Windsor— and the former municipalities which encompass it— is ripe for historians to read through. First Nations and Native American tribes first called this area home prior to European exploration and settlement. The French established the area as an agricultural settlement in 1749 and, to date, Windsor is the oldest continually inhabited European settlement in Canada west of Montreal.
Following the American Revolution, in 1749 the settlement of Sandwich was founded. Later to be renamed Windsor- after the town in Berkshire England- Sandwich is home to some of the oldest buildings in Essex County, and Ontario.
Windsor played a key role during the Upper Canada Rebellion in 1837 and was the site of the aptly titled “Battle of Windsor.”
In 1854, Windsor was officially established as a village and was connected to the rest of Canada by the Grand Trunk Railway/Canadian National Railway.
Its evolution into a city came about as the result of an 1858 decision to classify Windsor as a town, and the 1892 edict in which Windsor attained city status.
Windsor additionally played a key role in the Underground Railroad, providing a route for freed and escaped slaves to travel through on their journey to freedom.
Moreover, Windsor served as the linkage for many American “entrepreneurs” to employ in order to attain alcohol during their prohibition era. Many people became very rich due to the close proximity of Windsor and Detroit.
Sandwich, Ford City and Walkerville were all considered towns by legal definition until 1935. Now considered historic neighbourhoods of Windsor, these distinct parts of the city harbour their own look, feel and identity.
Ojibway and Riverside were both incorporated in 1913 and 1921 respectively; however, they were also annexed by Windsor in 1966.
Sandwich was first settled in as a French agricultural settlement, and many of its buildings and houses date to the mid-19th century. In 1747, the first Jesuit Mission in Upper Canada was established in the area. It was a result of Detroit’s independence from Great Britain that Sandwich was generally considered an actual settlement. Due to Detroit’s independence, a mass exodus of loyalists fled to Sandwich, infusing it with a large population. The area was purchased in 1797 from the Huron Indians for “about 300 pounds worth of supplies.”
The area has played home to many historical and meaningful events throughout Canadian history. Indeed, the beginning of the War of 1812 brought numerous influential military figures to Old Sandwich Town: Chief Tecumseh, General Isaac Brock of the British army, and Generals Henry Procter and Harrison of the United States.
During the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837-1838, Sandwich was pitted against Windsor as likely targets for rebellion, and invasion from the United States. It was during the Battle of Windsor, which commenced in December of 1838, when Sandwich saw the most military action. There were suspicions of an American invasion, and these were indeed proven true when hundreds of “Patriots” stormed the Canadian side of the Detroit River. It was in Sandwich where the invaders were essentially halted by a militia.
Old Sandwich Town harbours numerous historically significant buildings to both the surrounding area and Ontario in general.
Mackenzie Hall is a “living link” between the region’s legal past and artistic present. Originally the building was a courthouse and gaol (jail). However, in recent years the building has been transformed into a cultural centre for the City of Windsor. The Duff-Baby Mansion is considered to be the oldest structure in all of Ontario.
Many residents of the area cite that the infusion of students led to the town to go into disarray. One resident who wished to remain anonymous stated that it was when families moved out of the area to the suburbs for modern conveniences that things began to go downhill. “Families moved out and the landowners became absentee landlords.” The tenants didn’t feel the need to maintain the appearance of their residences (many of them were students living there for short periods of time), while the landlords abdicated their responsibilities due to their perception that students were continually causing the neighbourhood to fall into disarray. Indeed, it was a Catch 22 situation.
Mary Popovich has lived in Sandwich her entire life and commented that she has seen the area change immensely over the past 20 years. While there used to be lots of areas for children to play, including parks, she now sees the area in a different light. Popovich is frustrated over the ongoing dispute between the Ambassador Bridge Company and the City of Windsor. In her eyes, the neighbourhood is suffering due to people playing politics.
Chris Mickle is a co-owner of the Dominion House, which has been in business since 1878. He explained that it was “exciting to own a piece of history.” His establishment is considered to be the second longest running licensed establishment in all of Ontario. The Dominion House has only had seven to eight owners since it opened, and it used to be a hotel and bar serving workers and visitors of the Old Supply House.
John Palombo, owner of Courtesy Bikes, has operated the business in Sandwich for 26 years. Prior to owning the business, he had lived in Sandwich for roughly six years. He viewed the absentee landlord situation to be one which causes the neighbourhood to continually fall into disarray, and he hopes that municipal restrictions on Sandwich will be lifted— that of a heritage designation over roughly the entire neighbourhood— so homeowners can easily modify and upgrade their properties.