by Farrukh Mehdi
The Lance – Contributor
Ottawa Street has been luring shoppers, foodies and enthusiasts for over 100 years. Less than a couple of miles from Windsor’s historic river front, Ottawa Street offers an amazing variety of shops from upscale fashion boutiques to antique stores, restaurants, bars and other services. Beautifully designed and well-kept, one can still see the character of this magical street, for even after 100 years the street has not lost its charm although the recent popularity of the downtown area has overshadowed the allure of this majestic street.
On the 100th anniversary, Uptown Ottawa Street Business Improvement Association had some big plans to celebrate this momentous milestone. The association decided to take this opportunity to its fullest potential and give face-lift to the whole area.
“We are beautifying the neighborhood even more,” said chairperson of uptown Ottawa Street B.I.A. Jeffery Wood. “We have new banners coming out shortly. It’s time for us to rebrand the area up to where it was and bring the nostalgia back.”
A highlight of the event perhaps was the “100 Years of Fashion” show on the evening of Sept. 18, acting as the kick-off for the two-day event. The show took place in a covered Lanspeary Park arena, taking the audience through a journey of a century full of fashion. The fashion show was a true effort to honor the unsung contribution of Ottawa Street to the local fashion scene and the show was attended by hundreds of people.
Cystic Fibrosis of Canada was the charity of choice, with part of the fashion show proceeds going towards the research and treatment for the children who suffer from Cystic Fibrosis. Anne-Marie Beausoleil, President of Essex-Kent Chapter, was present at the show on the behalf of Cystic Fibrosis Canada.
“Ottawa Street has been around forever as a grass roots part of Windsor history,” said Beausoleil “We are very pleased that the organizing committee chose us to be a part of this wonderful celebration.”
The St. Clair College Fashion Design program and Marvel School of Beauty were just a few of the volunteer participants of the show.
Elaine Weeks, local historian, shared some interesting facts about the amazing Ottawa Street. She explained Teppermans, a store of economy furniture and appliances started on Ottawa Street in 1925. Shortly after followed Freeds which was begun by one Sam Freed and generation after generation has been an integral part of the character of Ottawa Street.
“I have been on Ottawa Street all my life,” said second-generation owner Gerald Freed. “I got my first paycheck in 1945, 25 cents an hour and that sounded a lot to me.”
The store, now known as Freeds of Windsor, takes up the whole block from Lincoln to Gladstone and is still a family owned business and run by Sam’s grandsons Ari Freed and Dan Orman.
Shannon McCallum, a second-generation business owner on Ottawa Street, said she sees some positive signs of growth.
“We had highs and lows,” said McCallum. “I see a boom right now, businesses are filling in, new and old type of businesses. A lot of services are now on the street. So it’s going in a positive way. I see a lot of people wandering around which is always good that shows this event has become successful.”
On Sept. 19 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Ottawa Street from Windermere Road to Pierre Ave was blocked to local traffic for the celebration festivities. The event drew hundreds of people to the area. Food trucks, face painting kiosks and petting zoo were the major attractions. Jangles the Magic Clown was the most popular among all the street entertainers. Children of all ages were lined up to get animal balloons of their choice.
The celebration wrapped up that evening with exceptional live performance of Greatest Hits Live. It was a free concert for everyone over 19 years of age. The band precisely performed note-for-note hits of the 60s, 70s and 80s.
The event was definitely a success, which helped bring people from different parts of the city to the area and exposed them to unique assets of this remarkable street. In coming years we don’t know how this inspiring street will transform but we know for sure it will remain a vast source of interest and joy to visitors.