South of the border: Let's not forget the Motor City (across the river)

O Canada, I see you every day but rarely visit. Well, I take that back. I go to Canada with some regularity, but it's typically to visit family and wineries in the Harrow area, and I make it to Toronto about once a year. Windsor? Not so much.

Over the years, I've enjoyed a few great Italian meals on Erie Street, Ethiopian at Marathon and Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese too. But I've yet to see a Windsor Spitfires hockey game, bike the riverfront or the LaSalle Trail, catch a show at the renowned Phog Lounge or tour the Hiram Walker Distillery.

In an attempt to begin to remedy this shameful situation, I decided to head over one weekday evening with no set agenda, no car and no company (save a book). While this may sound weird -- and it probably is -- some of my most memorable traveling experiences have been solo, and I wanted to feel like I was on an adventure.

So I prepped. Passport? Check. Pepper spray? Penknife? Removed from bag. Bike multi-tool? Looks vaguely menacing, better ditch that too.

I walked to the Rosa Parks Transit Center and inquired at the information counter as to where I could pick up the Tunnel Bus. I was told well number 13, which is the one furthest north on the site.

Each well has a digital sign that displays the time, bus line served and expected arrival of the next bus. It took me a minute to figure out that the Vernor bus also uses the same well and that it commands priority in terms of signage. In fact, the Tunnel Bus arrival time was not mentioned on the sign and the first one that came by drove right by me, apparently not expecting any passengers.

I shook off my irritation and decided to talk around the corner to Michigan Ave. just east of Washington Blvd., where I remembered having seen a Tunnel Bus sign. The next one stopped when I waved -- even though the driver indicated that people rarely used that stop. The bus costs $3.75 in either U.S. or Canadian currency and you need exact change.

The last stop before entering the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, which is located on the back side of Mariner's Church, had quite a few people waiting at it. When we got into Canada, we all filed off the bus and into a customs office. I said I was there to eat dinner, but that I wasn't sure where yet, and the officer waved me right through.

I wandered Downtown aimlessly and strolled the riverfront. All pleasant, but it was sprinkling and kind of chilly. I popped into a pub called Papa Cheney's Whiskey Well, which had a great view of Detroit. I could see Hart Plaza, the Guardian Building and even a tip of the Compuware Building, at a precise angle that I'd never seen before. I sipped a whiskey to warm up then walked back outside.

I enjoyed a pleasant meal of beef and eggplant in garlic sauce at Mandarin House, a coffee at Tim Horton's -- don't laugh, I love Tim Horton's -- and got back on the Tunnel Bus for the ride home.

Here's where the story could have gone a bit better. There were only three of us on the bus, and when we arrived back into the U.S., let's just say we were in the customs office for a long time. The border guard peppered me with questions, searched my bag and basically made me feel like a criminal. The other two passengers had similar experiences, as I learned while we chatted afterwards.

This is not rare. Tom Lucier, who runs the aforementioned Phog Lounge and is a proponent of cross-border collaboration, told me he has heard the same story frequently from his patrons and said, "I don't know how this is being tolerated on your side, frankly."

The Canadian bus driver told us that it was necessary for border security, but I didn't really buy it. It felt more like I was on the underdog end of a power trip.

Other than that glitch, it really was a pleasant jaunt across the border, and it reminded me that going to Windsor doesn't have to be a big deal. It really is as viable of an option for a night out as, say, Ann Arbor. It takes about the same amount of time to get there and has a good number of dining and entertainment options. Tip: if you take the Tunnel Bus, grab a Rider's Guide. It has a good map of Downtown and the ads can be mined for destination ideas.

One that I missed on this visit is The House, at 131 Elliott Street. Lucier and three partners opened the creative and entrepreneurial collective just this month, and it already includes a cafe, catering company, graphic design studio and clothing store.

Lucier is motivated by the same things that many young Detroiters are: opportunity, changing perceptions and a lack of amenities that his peers moving to Toronto and Vancouver (synonymous with Chicago and New York on this side of the border) are looking for. "There's a huge faction of young Windsor people doing their own thing: opening businesses, artists." he says. Rather than migrating to bigger cities, "a nice amount of them are digging in their heels."

Lucier believes what is good for the goose is good for the gander when it comes to Detroit and Windsor. With the Big 3 being a major employer in both towns, we have a lot in common in terms of economics. We are both losing much of our young to larger cities that are perceived to be more vibrant. And we both suffer from negative perceptions, both fair and undeserved, in our respective countries. But, says Lucier, "(Like our) neighbor Detroit, (we're trying to) change the story by giving people a clearer picture of what they have access to here, making people think twice about where they live."

He has in interest in what he calls "border-breaking," and one way to accomplish this is not, he says, "through mainstream media. I'm a big fan of Detroit, a big fan of Windsor, and because of the internet, it is much easier to connect."

These connections are crucial to the story that Lucier wants both Detroiters and Windsorites to know. "We have a lot to offer, a lot of opportunity for Detroiters, but we don't talk to each other," he says. "How the hell are we not more of a shared citizenry?"

Lucier asks a good question, one that I hope to ponder at a Spitfires game next month.

The House is hosting an open house this Thursday, Oct. 7, from 5 to 1 p.m. Initial tenants in the collective space include Rino's Kitchen, SPOTVIN, Accent Media and Taking On Media -- all under one collaborative, right-brained, left-brained, kick-ass roof of awesomeness. The House is at 131 Elliott Street West. RSVP to

Kelli Kavanaugh is development news editor for Model D and a self-avowed Canadaphile. Send feedback here.

All photographs © Marvin Shaouni Photography
Contact Marvin here


On the way to Windsor via the tunnel

View of Detroit from Windsor

Odette Sculpture Park

Papa Cheney's

Shane Potvin, co-owner of The House

Tom Lucier, co-owner of Photo Lounge and The House

Phog Lounge
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