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Saturday, May 18, 2024
Windsor-Detroit Area - Courtesy of MapArt Publishing
Windsor-Detroit Area - Courtesy of MapArt Publishing
After visiting the Detroit River region in 1679, Father Hennepin wrote with prophetic appropriateness these memorable lines: “Those who shall be so happy as to inhabit that noble country cannot but remember with gratitude the men who have discovered the way by venturing to sail upon an unknown lake for about one hundred leagues.”(Ernest J. Lajeunesse. The Windsor Border Region, 1960)

Windsor is located on the toe of the boot that is Essex County, which makes this city the most southern tip of Ontario and the southernmost frontier of Canada. Detroit, Michigan is less than a mile across the river. The river serves as an international border between these two cities, and it’s the only thing that divides them. Detroit is the largest American city directly located opposite a Canadian city.

Windsor is connected to Detroit by the Michigan Central Railway Tunnel (1910), the Ambassador Bridge (1929), and the Windsor – Detroit Tunnel (1930). Also, Windsor is connected to Detroit both spiritually and psychologically. Windsor’s people are close to their cousins; they shop there, go to restaurants etc. Many people from Detroit also come to Windsor for the same reasons. Windsor people locate their town in relation to Detroit, so that others will understand where they live.

Windsor is a typically automotive, industrial city. It is developed as a branch plant economy of the United States and the automobile industries in Michigan. Windsor’s relationship to Detroit and the proximity between the two cities affect people's life in many ways. (Source: Herb Colling, Turning Points. The Detroit Riot of 1967, A Canadian Perspective)

Italians, as many people from other European countries, immigrated to Canada. They came by boat, and they were shipped by trains to different provinces and cities. Why did they come to Windsor?

Many Italians were drawn to Windsor because they had heard from relatives or friends about the expanding automotive and construction industries in the Windsor-Detroit area. They came from various parts of Ontario and Canada – Fort William, Timmins, White River, Sudbury, Copper Cliff, Quebec, British Columbia, etc. Many, of course, found jobs in factories or in construction, but some began their own contracting businesses. (Courtesy of Nevi Rusich)

Another reason for which the Italians were drawn to Windsor was that they dreamed of America as the “Promised Land”. Windsor, Detroit’s border city, was almost America, a bridge to this place of dreams.
In reality, the immigrants were aware of the sufferings and hardship with which they would pay for the construction of the new world. The streets were not paved with gold.

Italians mostly belong to the Pier 21 and Ellis Island era and the post war massive immigration. Italians came to North America to build a better life for themselves and their families. Their struggles and their achievements confirm that. Many Italians came to the Windsor area with the intention of working in Detroit. Mario Sellan recalls that his father, who first came to Canada in 1911, travelled to a number of communities in Ontario, and eventually a friend told him about the opportunities in Detroit. In 1919 he came to Windsor for the purpose of going to Detroit but met friends in Windsor and never got there.

In the 20s many Italians, hearing from relatives or friends about the expanding automotive and construction industries in the Windsor-Detroit area, were drawn here from all over the province. The small but dynamic collectivity consisted of 429 people by 1921 and by 1931 had grown five times to 2,023. But in the following decade it increased by only 430 people.(Walter Temelini, Italians in Windsor, Polyphony, Vol. 7, No. 2). 

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The opinions and interpretations in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Government of Canada.


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