Windsor (Ont)

Windsor, Ont, incorporated as a city in 1892, population 210 891 (2011c), 216 473 (2006c). The City of Windsor is Canada's southernmost city and is located on the DETROIT RIVER in the extreme southwest corner of the province.

Windsor (Ont)

Windsor, Ont, incorporated as a city in 1892, population 210 891 (2011c), 216 473 (2006c). The City of Windsor is Canada's southernmost city and is located on the DETROIT RIVER in the extreme southwest corner of the province. Lying directly south of Detroit on the rich agricultural peninsula nestled between Lakes ERIE and ST CLAIR, Windsor is an international gateway through which millions of foreign visitors enter the country each year.

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. Windsor is also one of Ontario's tourist and convention centres.

Located in the heart of North America, Windsor is a transportation centre and Canada's busiest port of entry. It is served by 5 railways, 4 provincial highways and the Macdonald-Cartier Freeway (401) connecting with Toronto and Montreal. A deepwater port near the centre point of the ST LAWRENCE SEAWAY, the city is also served by the Windsor International Airport.

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.

Cultural Life

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.

Further Reading

  • E.J. Lajeunesse, The Windsor Border Region (1960); N. Morrison, Garden Gateway to Canada (1954); T. Price and Larry L. Kulisek, Windsor: An Illustrated History (1985).

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