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The Junction: Birthplace of Windsor & Area's Transit System

by Sherrill Tuckerjunction-front.jpg

One hundred and fifty years before the Casino started drawing thousands of tourists to Windsor every day, the local tourist attraction was a real hot spot!

In the mid 1800's, thousands came to Windsor every summer to visit the sulphur springs in Brighton Beach, just outside of Sandwich. In order to accommodate the thousands of mostly American tourists flocking to the area, the Ontario Legislature passed an act in 1872 approving a horse drawn street car line.

The City of Windsor cleared a 100-foot wide swath of land from Bruce west to Huron Line to create London Street (now University Ave.)  The six car trolley line opened on July 20th, 1874. Rates "from any point in Sandwich" to Assumption Church were six cents; to Campbell, seven cents; and eight cents to Windsor.

During the very snowy winter of 1875 the railway substituted sleighs for the horse-drawn streetcar. Thus began a nearly 100 year tradition of street car companies being responsible for the plowing and cleaning of our main roads. junction-w_-streetcar.jpg

The original streetcar line did not prosper and changed hands many times (even Americans were involved at one point) until the Sandwich, Windsor & Amherstburg Railway (S.W. & A.) commenced operation in June, 1887.

In 1891, a powerhouse (to equip the road for electric operation) and the London Street trolley barns were built just west of the Michigan Central Railroad Bridge. The powerhouse apparently also 'sold' electricity to its neighbours during its brief history. junction-lot3.jpg

The first 'electric' streetcar ran between Windsor and the town of Walkerville. The one and a half mile long line was officially opened on June 9, 1886, with a travel time of 12 minutes to Walkerville. It is thought to be the first electric streetcar in North America but our Municipal Archives has no information that would back up this claim.

While the trolleys disappeared in 1937, the London Street Trolley barns still exist (though another smaller version out back is long gone as are the street rails) on University Avenue West at the foot of Wellington Street.

The S.W.& A. ran their operations there from 1887 until 1947, with a Freight Office and barbershop just to the east. The Windsor Rollerdrome was located in the building that now holds "The Junction", from 1949 until 1952 while the other remained vacant. junction.jpg

Windsorite Brenda (Gallimore) Gall loved to rollerskate and remembers going to the Rollerdrome as a young teenager with her babysitting money. "The floor was so smooth and there was never any drinking or fighting - you were kicked out if you started anything".

There were unofficial 'races' on Saturday afternoons bringing people from all over the county for the good-spirited competition. Other neighbourhood girls from that time I've talked to indicated that they "weren't ALLOWED to go", and others "didn't have money for that kind of thing".

Both of these buildings and the adjacent property are owned by The M.G. (George) Butler family and are managed by Doug Butler, Sr. (one of George's sons) and Doug, Jr.

In 1951, Michael George Butler bought the buildings from the S.W.& A and started the family business. Calling themselves 'Industrial Distributors', they've got a little bit of everything you'll ever need for your factory: maintenance & janitorial supplies, hoists, chain, all kinds of rope, hoses, valves, tools, etc., I even saw 'wellies' and rain slickers. All the things a hardware store junky loves.

According to blueprints provided by local Bus Historian Bernie Drouillard, when the powerhouse was in use, there were tracks that brought the coal car right into the building, to a small room behind the boiler room. Upstairs in the back they have left the unusual looking original trusses exposed.

At present, M.G. Butler and Sons rents out space in their building (where the paint shed used to be) to the Salvation Army as storage space. 

The former Rollerdrome building presently houses The Junction, a family entertainment facility. George Sofos and his partners renovated the trolley car barn to the tune of $1,000,000 and counting, and it's quite evident. 

Remnants of a maintenance pit, well hidden, hearken back to the building's garage days. The original heavy sliding doors have been moved and are used as wall dividers throughout the building. Sofos is in the process of restoring the original Edison lights that were used in the pits and finding the right replacements for the blocked-in windows.

The scene of many corporate parties (where even adults have been known to whiz down those curvy slides), plans for the Junction include expanding to include more slides which will be accessed from an even higher mezzanine area.

If you're interested in seeing how one of Windsor's oldest buildings has been put to good use, take a trip to The Junction. Just think, you can sit in an old trolley barn, (hopefully enjoy a glass of wine or beer), someone else makes dinner, and the kids can have a ball!

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