|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
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
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
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