life and times
hiram who
birth of the auto
border cities
sports heritage

Four days into working the most dangerous shifts of his policing career, Richard's wife gave birth to their son.

“I want out of here,” Elna told him. “I don't want to raise my kids like this.”

Within six months, Richard quit the Detroit force and moved his family across the river to Windsor.

On the night the Detroit riot broke out, 21 year-old Phil Chauvin was working as a waiter in the Garrison Lounge at downtown Windsor's Seaway Hotel. The borders were clamped shut early Sunday morning. The rooms at the hotel began to fill up as American clientele found themselves trapped in Windsor, unable to get home.

"Where can we get some beer and whiskey?" someone asked the young waiter.

Phil thought fast. The liquor stores closed at 6 p.m. and they didn't open on Sundays, but he knew how he could help them out.

I guess this would be called 'bootlegging', he realized with a chuckle. He had managed to set up a few of the Americans with some whiskey. 'Fix 'em up, for a price!' Phil slipped the money into his pocket.

Meanwhile, across the border, traffic was backed up along Riverside Drive as carloads of residents flocked to the riverfront to watch the 'fireworks' over Detroit. Early Monday, July 24th, the Windsor Fire Department got a call from Detroit for assistance; the W.F.D. responded immediately. When they arrived in the riot district, it was like a scene out of war movie.

They were instructed to tackle the worst blazes. For three days, Windsor firefighters worked alongside their beleaguered American counterparts.

Meanwhile, the death toll climbed. By the end of the week, the panic in Detroit had claimed 44 lives and 7,331 arrests had been made.

Walter Perry paced in his office. The 1967 Windsor Emancipation Day festivities were scheduled for next week. He was in charge and the pressure was on to cancel the event – the first time in its 35-year history. The situation across the river was too serious, he told himself; too much of a gamble to hold the 1967 celebration.

On Thursday, July 27th, The Windsor Star broke the news. "We called it off to be on the safe side and to protect all citizens in Windsor," Walter was quoted.

While tensions remained high, the rioting was finally quelled by the end of the week. Relief projects for Detroit riot refugees were quickly set up. Windsorites pulled together as well. Tonnes of food and clothing were collected and sent over to help their neighbours.

When the border crossing reopened, the brave and the curious wanted to see where the rioting had happened. Carole and Manfred Behrens decided to take a Sunday drive across the bridge to check out the damage.

“It’s like a war zone!” said Carole. Whole city blocks were completely destroyed. Her husband shook his head." Stores, businesses, everything burned out,” he said in disbelief. "Why would they do this?"

Leah Behrens
Remember Kathy Parrott in the back seat of her dad’s car? Three years after the riot, she met a young Windsorite named Walter Szwed, who was on a cross-border excursion with his friend. They married and embarked on a life together in Canada.

I was born two years later. You could say I was a product of the restored confidence in travel between our two cities. Hearing the stories and memories from 35 years ago from family and friends about Detroit's dark week, many questions go through my mind. Could this happen again? Are the underlying issues of the past being dealt with? Is there any plan in place in case things go wrong in the future? Will Detroit ever fully recover?

Leah Behrens is a freelance writer based in Windsor.



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