Freewheeling in Windsor: A short journey to the deep south of Canada

Windsor, Ontario is closer to downtown Detroit than its suburbs, yet we treat it like some foreign land. Okay, it actually is, but that shouldn't stop us from exploring this charming city to our southLast month, we decided to go there with open minds and virtually no plans to see what we've been missing.

Want to experience Windsor, but in a slightly more structured way? Sign up for the Detroit Experience Factory's Walk Windsor Tour. Click here for details.

The Tunnel Bus

Few Detroiters realize they can get to Windsor without a car. The Tunnel Bus, a service of Transit Windsor, provides regular rides across the border and costs less than the the Ambassador Bridge toll (and Matty Maroun doesn't see a loonie of your bus fare!).

We caught the bus at the historic Mariner's Church at the mouth of the Tunnel, one of several stops it makes in downtown Detroit, including the Rosa Parks Transit Center. We locked our bikes to a rack on the Detroit RiverWalk because Transit Windsor only allows bikes on the Tunnel Bus if disassembled and in a "bike bag."

Crossing into Canada was drama-free. The Tunnel Bus driver and other passengers were friendly. At customs, all you have to do is show your credentials (don't forget your passport or enhanced ID) to the Canadian border guards and answer a few questions (pleasantries, really) before continuing on your way. (Returning to Detroit is another story altogether. To get an idea what that's like, check out this Reddit thread.)

Walking on Wyandotte

The bus dropped us off near Caesars Windsor Casino, where we struggled for a moment to get our bearings. Figuring out cardinal directions on the other side of the river is like being confused about which arm you're waving when looking at yourself in the mirror.

When we figured out where we were, we headed east towards the shop where we would rent bikes for the day.

The way to Walkerville along Wyandotte Street is a great place to grab lunch or a snack. We stopped at Hanan's Bakery, a Lebanese/Turkish business located in the heart of a predominantly Middle Eastern community, and bought a pair of enormous spinach and meat pies. The dough was crisp on the outside, chewy underneath, and the filling perfectly spiced.

Further down, we stopped for a sandwich at The Carvery, a new Windsor favorite. (Travel tip: Go to Windsor with an empty stomach. There are way too many great food options to try in a single day.)

Freewheeling in Windsor

In Walkerville, a historic neighborhood east of downtown Windsor, Dutch-style city bikes rent for $30 per day at the City Cyclery. The shop also sells vintage and new bicycles, including Detroit Bikes models. We were helped by Oliver, a friendly guy whose overriding passion is bicycles (besides working in the shop, he bikes competitively, gives bike tours, and teaches bike mechanic workshops). He gave us suggestions for places to visit and routes to take, hooked us up with two cruiser bikes, and sent us on our way.

In the mood for a lengthy ride, we hopped on Windsor's riverfront path. Pedalling at a leisurely pace, it took us about 30 minutes to ride from end to end. A compact city, Windsor is easy to get around without a car.

Windsor's riverfront makes great use of its natural advantages -- better, in fact, than Detroit's RiverWalk. Windsor's path has separate lanes for pedestrians and cyclists, eliminating any awkward maneuvering between the two. (Why is this not the case in Detroit?)

Statues and public artworks line the riverfront path, and the views of downtown Detroit are better than any you'll find stateside.

At the riverfront path's western edge, a public pier offers a unique vantage of the underside of the Ambassador Bridge -- if you tried to get under the bridge back home, Homeland Security would cuff you and take you in for interrogation.

Sandwich Towne

Located on the city's west side and abutting the foot of the Ambassador Bridge, Sandwich is Windsor's oldest neighborhood. In fact, it's the site of the oldest settlement in Canada west of Montreal. It was here the British re-established themselves in 1796 when they ceded control of Detroit to the U.S. Murals throughout the neighborhood celebrate the area's long history.

Our first stop was the Barrel House, a classic bar on Sandwich Street (the neighborhood's main drag) serving pints of Ontario craft brews (beers by Detroit's Atwater Brewing the notable exceptions) that are best enjoyed on the patio underneath a large mural of Simon Girty. From there, we headed to the Dominion House, the oldest continuously operated tavern in Essex County, which dates back to 1878.

Departing for downtown, a detour along Indian Road revealed to us the true costs of Matty Moroun and his Detroit International Bridge Company's desire to build a twin span of the Ambassador Bridge. Several blocks of boarded-up houses, which were purchased by the Bridge Co. in recent years, line the east side of Indian Road. According to
a 2013 story in the Windsor Star, Moroun has spent $31.9 million buying property in Sandwich to make way for his second span -- what you might call a strategic investment in neighborhood disinvestment. Curiously, across from Moroun's boarded-up properties is a large number of tidy homes covered in solar panels -- a clear sign that people are investing in the neighborhood's future. The contrast is startling.

Riding on Wyandotte

Just east of the bridge, the neighborhood around the University of Windsor is bustling and diverse. Asian restaurants line the commercial strip along Wyandotte Street, a busy but bikeable thoroughfare. Here you can find everything from Vietnamese Pho to Uighur cuisine. We chose to eat at Pho Maxim, which proved to be an incredibly affordable and delicious option. Be sure to order an avocado milkshake for dessert.

Getting back into downtown, the area around Oulette Street is a clear nightlife destination. Those who want to know what Windsor's music scene is all about need to catch a show at
Phog Lounge, a craft beer bar and venue that hosts local and touring bands every night of the week.

We took a peek at some cool graffiti in the alley between Oulette and Pelissier streets before checking out Dr. Disc Records, a great place to pick up hard-to-find vinyl at affordable prices, especially considering an exchange rate that's quite favorable to American shoppers. It feels like everything in Windsor is 20 percent off.

From downtown we veered north to Erie Street for a short jaunt through Windsor's Little Italy neighborhood. Home to dozens of destinations for great Italian food, Little Italy is another reason why Detroit foodies need to spend more time in Windsor.


Before returning our bikes to the City Cyclery, we pedaled around Walkerville, the crown jewel of Windsor neighborhoods. Developed in the 1890s as a model town to house workers and management at Hiram Walker's whisky distillery, today Walkerville is.home to handsome row houses, stately manners, tree-lined streets, and a happening business district.

After turning in our bikes, we stopped by the Walkerville Brewery, but the place was packed for a beer release party, so we walked to Taloola, a charming cafe in a quieter corner of Walkerville overlooking the river. After a nightcap, we walked back downtown and caught the Tunnel Bus home.

Want to experience Windsor, but in a slightly more structured way? Sign up for the Detroit Experience Factory's Walk Windsor Tour.
Click here for details.

Special thanks to Stephen Lynn for introducing us to many of our destinations.

All photos by Matthew Lewis.
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