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Portrait of Ford City

From:  Windsor 1892-1992, A Centennial Celebration, Trevor Price & Larry Kulisek

Related Links:

Ford Strike of '45
Ford City Business District: Circa 1999
Ford City Photo Gallery
Racing Into History

The two towns of Walkerville and Ford stood side by side, but they were a complete study of contrasts, products of their origins in different historical periods and traditions. Walkerville enjoyed the solidity of measured growth and the guiding hand of one of North America's most effective business leaders [Hiram Walker].

ford1thumb.jpgFord, by contrast, experienced mushroom-like growth propelled by the most dynamic industries of the age - automobiles. Its life as a municipal entity was less than a quarter of a century, and during that time it coped with difficult problems before finally succumbing to insolvency and embracing without dissent the forcible amalgamation which its more prosperous neighbour, Walkerville, resisted to the end.

The roots of Ford go back to the late nineteenth century before it became an industrial town. The French Canadian farmers of Sandwich East Township dominated this area, and they had begun to coalesce around a small village where, in 1884, they had established a Catholic church - Notre Dame du Lac.

Prior to the building of this church, a priest from St. Alphonsus Church in Windsor had held mass in a school room on the farm of local shipbuilder Shadrack Jenking. Nearby, a number of small industries had developed: Jenking's shipyard, a small pork-processing plant, the making of staves for barrels, the manufacture of sugar from locally grown grapes, and a blacksmith's shop.

Census figures, the names of people on the assessment rolls, the importance of the Catholic Church and the significance of separate schools in this area all prove that Ford City in its origins was predominantly French.

Ford City's first four mayors were French, as were a majority of members of the first Ford City councils. The farm lots used to carve the Ford Motor Co. were almost entirely owned by French families. The main thoroughfare (Drouillard Road) was once a private lane on the Drouillard farm, which wound its way from Riverside Drive to Tecumseh Road.

François Drouillard donated the land by the river on which the church of Notre Dame du Lac (Our Lady of the Lake), later called Holy Rosary was built. Typically, Hiram Walker made a contribution to the building of the church, which was attended by some of his employees.

ford7thumb.jpgThe original Ford automobile factory site was a good location on the river to which were brought the components from the U.S. parent plant to be assembled into completed horseless carriages.

The Walkerville Wagon Works already existed, and an alert entrepreneur, Gordon McGregor, accomplished a deal with Henry Ford to bring auto parts to the Wagon Works at a lower duty than completed cars paid, thus getting an edge on the Canadian market. This occurred in 1904 when 17 employees produced 117 finished automobiles.

This small beginning was the springboard from which ensued the most vibrant growth of a manufacturing industry which Canada had ever seen. The Ford of Canada operation soon outgrew its original building, and after the first new building was completed in 1910, Ford continually expanded over a huge site which eventually covered hundreds of acres.

ford6thumb.jpgWorkers poured into the area as many additional industries making car components as well as other car makers began operations. By 1913 Ford of Canada employed 1,400 employees, the wages were $4 an hour and the work week was 48 hours. The wages far exceeded what was generally available in manufacturing at the time, and news of the opportunities soon spread.

The new community of Ford as well as neighbouring border communities experienced a prodigious flow of new immigrants from Europe, rural Essex County and other parts of Canada.

Neither the rural township of Sandwich East nor the neighbouring municipality of Walkerville had an interest in trying to organise the new community, which experienced the results of haphazard and poorly supervised growth.

ford5thumb.jpgThe new community was incorporated as a village in 1913 and quickly reached town status by 1915. Effective municipal organization was needed to develop housing and ensure good standards of public health.

The name Ford City was the popular choice promoted by Charles Montreuil, a local resident who became its first mayor. The irony is that the name by which it was generally known and recognized in official documents - Ford City - was a misnomer.

Ford City was always a town. In 1929, when the community actually incorporated as the City of East Windsor, it dropped the old name. The Ford Company always referred to the town of Ford without the appendage "city." However, the documents of the municipality and provincial references used the name Ford City.

By 1928 when Ford City changed its name to East Windsor, it reached its peak population of around 16,000. At this time, it covered 1,600 acres of land, had siford3thumb.jpgx schools and a fully developed structure of municipal services.

Along Drouillard Road could be found every kind of store and commercial facility. There were churches for every kind of religious persuasion - Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and United. All this, from open fields to a busy town, happened in the short space of 20 years.

By 1923 it was reported that about 85 percent of Ford residents owned their own homes, and they were able to finance the relatively large loans needed to build the infrastructure of schools, civic buildings, libraries and utility service.

ford4thumb.jpgThe haste with which Ford was built and the fact that many of its residents were newcomers influenced the nature of the housing stock, which was largely built by owners and speculative landlords. It was not built to last.

In this creation of an instant town wedged in between industry and rail lines lay the ingredients for later urban decay. Perhaps this was inevitable because Ford grew too fast and had too borrow too much money.

By the early 1930's the new city of East Windsor was in financial difficulty, along with most of its neighbours. High unemployment meant people lost their homes and were unable to pay their municipal taxes.

fordbeachthumb.jpgThe future of East Windsor lay in the hands of the province. The idea of amalgamation with the wider metropolitan community was acceptable to the citizens of East Windsor, who expressed few of the regrets of Walkerville in losing their identity (see page 2: ed).

The area still shows the marks of its origins as a working class, multi-ethnic community with more indications of a cosmopolitan European culture in its churches, stores and social clubs than other parts of Windsor.

For a brief period at the end of the 1930s during World War II and after, Drouillard Road enjoyed a revival as a commercial and social hub, but when the main Ford assembly plant closed in the 1950s and commercial plazas opened in the suburbs, the area went into a rapid decline.

New measures for rehabilitation in the 1960s and 1970s infused new life in cooperation with the East Windsor Citizens Committee, Holy Rosary Church and various city departments. The neighbourhood of East Windsor has survived tough times and has shown a desire to perpetuate the traditions of a feisty working town with cultures from many lands, a microcosm of what much of the rest of the city became

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