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Col. Ernest Wigle, Windsor’s Mayor from 1905 to 1909 (and again in 1936 and 1937), wanted to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative as far as Erie Street was concerned. He also wanted to inspire investors to venture outside of the downtown core.

In those days, Erie Street was a main link between east and west in what was then mid-south Windsor. Drumming up interest in the Erie Street neighbourhood was a main reason that the park which bears Col. Wigle’s name is at the corner of Erie and McDougall.

Wigle Park was officially opened in 1909. But its surroundings were not at all as heartily Italian-Canadian as they are now. By 1921, there were 429 Italian- Canadians living in the area, but ten years after that, in 1931, there were more than 2,000 people of Italian heritage, and many of them were making valued contributions to the business, commercial and professional life of the community.

They formed clubs and associations, drama and musical groups, historical and business associations, and in an expression of the basic pivotal and vibrant nature of Italian tradition the world over, they combined devout religion with the celebratory and the festive.

Erie Street restaurants and cafes, exclusive clothing and gift and specialty shops, grocery stores, sporting events, bicycle races and other enterprises and activities have combined to create the fascinating Erie Street E. of today. The heart and soul of Windsor’s Via Italia remains its church home: St. Angela Merici, which is now in its seventh decade of service to its parishioners, its neighbourhood and the community in general.

The red brick sanctuary at Erie Street E. and Louis Ave. has been a place of devotion, pilgrimage, meditation, joy, sorrow, charity, celebration and reflection since it evolved in 1939 from what was until then referred to as “the Italian Chapel”.

Despite the festive Italian appeal of the thoroughfare today, many of its residents and business people in the late 1940s and 1950s were the same kind of diverse mixture which characterized almost all the rest of the community.

Where the stylish Anthony’s Men’s Wear exists today, there was the home of a neighbourhood meat market owned and run by Hyman (“Hymie”) Rabin. At the corner of Erie Street and Marentette Ave., where Mezzo Ristorante and Lounge is today, there was Brodie’s Ice House. There were at least three Chinese laundries, dry goods stores, pharmacies, small restaurants, hardware stores, the Peerless dairy bar, shoe repair places and small apartment buildings which were almost entirely occupied by people with distinctly non-Italian names.

And at the intersection of Marion Avenue and Erie Street, there was a true 1950s phenomenon for the whole of Windsor: a general store which almost never closed. This was the Nisby Confectionery, owned and run by Mary Nisby. The location is now occupied by Teresa’s Linens and Gifts.

Walking down the Via Italia of today is like walking down any busy street in Italy. It is bustling, friendly and animated. It is Italian in spirit and in joy and in hospitality.

 

Windsor Life Magazine, September 2003

 
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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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