University of Windsor media specialist looks across the water and likes what he sees

We didn't know it was him, this skinny kid in a shark skin suit, dark glasses, holding a mouth organ about as long as his forearm. A woman had led him onto the stage as we were watching the band set up. There wasn't much of a crowd yet for the Free Motown Review, so Gary and I were standing right up against the stage.
The kid reached out to feel the microphone stand to get his bearings. The band was still tuning up. "Now?" he asked a horn player repeatedly, waiting for his cue to shout, "Everybody say yeeaaah" and launch into "Fingertips."
The "he" was Stevie Wonder, of course -- still using the qualifier "Little" back then.
Gary McLister and I were 15, enjoying the music at the Michigan State Fair. It was 1963. To get there, we had taken the tunnel bus and the Woodward Avenue bus. It was our first time at the Michigan State Fairgrounds, or for that matter, that far from downtown on our own, but we were used to finding our way around Detroit.
I conjure this memory to illustrate why I am one of those people who isn't officially from Detroit, but I feel like, in part at least, that I am a Detroiter.
I grew up closer to downtown Detroit than the vast majority of people in the Detroit area. Once, when my high school let out, I went to Hudson's downtown to buy a Beach Boys t-shirt and was home in time for supper.
That's why I care about Detroit. I see the potential and celebrate the great stuff. This is why I subscribe to Model D and attended the presentation earlier this summer about the downtown redevelopment plan.
At that meeting, I listened to Robin Boyle, a professor from Wayne State University's school of urban planning, tell an audience about revitalizing the core. He had a section blocked out on his map. His presentation showed lots of aerial views of the downtown, some showing a little bit of the river.
I'm sitting there thinking, "they're overlooking the obvious. Detroit is part of an international community. That's one of its great advantages."
I looked at that block on the professor's map and thought, "the south end should be at Wyandotte Street in Windsor."
Thousands of people pass back and forth between the American and Canadian side of this commercial area. Students live on each side of the border and take classes on the others. Professors cross the border to teach and research. Nurses cross the border to work. You'll find Canadian business people having lunch at the Foxtown Grill (try the calamari) and American business people having lunch at an Erie Street (Italian) restaurant.
Last week, I met with some professors to put together a pitch to invite the Canadian Science Writers Association to hold a conference in Windsor. Beyond the science we can pitch a Tiger game, the DIA, shopping in Detroit (the list of places to go and people to see is endless).
If Wayne State were pitching U.S. science writers, they could include a tour of Essex County wineries, the Black Heritage Tour, not to mention waterfront parkland with the best view of the fireworks.
Sometimes it takes an outsider to see the obvious. In the late 60s, Detroit Edison brought in an outsider to do a plan for setting out utility and transportation corridors to meet future needs for the Detroit area. They brought in the world renowned planner who had coined the word megalopolis: Constantinos A. Doxiadis.
As a journalism student, I shadowed a reporter from The Windsor Star in 1971 to cover Doxiadis present his report. He said the border wouldn't affect where people lived. He showed where populations were likely to grow between Chicago and Montreal, and where utility and transportation corridors should be set aside then to avoid huge expense and political fights when they were needed.
I bet today's politicians wish the politicians of the early 1970s had gone ahead and set aside those corridors. For one thing, the Detroit River International Crossing project -- DRIC -- would be a fraction of the cost and far less controversial.
It's unfortunate that we don't put our heads together more. That we don't cooperate, promote each other. We share a great heritage.
The first person elected to the legislature of Upper Canada from this region lived on what is now the American side of the river. It was all one community then, with Fort Cadillac on the north shore, and a series of family farms lining the south shore. Today, the streets leading from the river in Windsor are named for the families who originally farmed each strip. The same is for streets running north from Detroit's riverfront.
When Britain defeated France in the mid-1700s, and took control of all the North American colonies, a few English-speaking settlers came up the lakes for fish, fur and timber. The neighborhood known as Sandwich Towne, just west of the Ambassador Bridge, has the oldest home in Canada west of Montreal.
After the American Revolution, the Jay treaty drew the border up the river, dividing our remote community on paper. Through the War of 1812, the Fenian Raids, Simon Girty, the Underground Railroad, Prohibition (when bootleggers and hijackers crossed the river by stealth), and the rise and fall of the auto industry in the 20th century, the heritage of our region took shape.
How would you write about the history of slavery in this region without talking about the huge black community in Windsor during the Civil War? In Sandwich, there is St. John's Church, where the raised area for the choir and pulpit has a trap door. Beneath it, escapees hid while the congregation sang, waiting for slave chasers from across the river to bust in looking for the people who had just made their way to freedom.
This is a truly unique heritage we can celebrate on both sides of the river.
Open up Google Earth. Follow the border from the Bay of Fundy on the coast of Maine to the Straits of Juan de Fuca on the coast of Washington. How many major American cities are on the border? One.
Detroit is the only major city in the U.S. that looks directly across a river at Canada. Windsor is the only city in Canada looking back at a major U.S. city.
This is a uniqueness that can be celebrated and can shape our region culturally and economically in the decades ahead, as it has for the centuries past.
And oh yeah, don't get me started on the Tigers and their great outfield in the early 1960s. Who can forget -- from left to right -- "Paw Paw" Charlie Maxwell, Billy Bruton and Hall of Famer Al Kaline? Not me. Not ever.

John Carrington is a development writer and public affairs specialist at the University of Windsor. He has lived and worked in Ottawa and Toronto. He has agreed to write periodically about Detroit from a Windsor perspective. We look forward to more stories linking the border cities.

All photographs © Marvin Shaouni Photography
Contact Marvin here


John Carrington

In Windsor, from Oulettet St, the Detroit  / Windsor shared  border appears blurred

Sandwich Towne

The 2nd oldest home this side of Montreal in Sandwich towne

Historic Sandwich Towne

A refuge in Sandwich Towne, St John's Church

The Duff-Baby Mansion; the oldest structure in all of Ontario

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