Last Passenger Ferry
Al Roach, 1988
years ago a sign was posted at the foot of Devonshire Road, which
read: "On May 15, 1942, this ferry service will be discontinued."
It was signed by the Detroit-Walkerville Ferry Company.
ended the so familiar Detroit-Walkerville ferry service, which had
been carried on for 61 years. Outmoded and shoved into the transportation
background by the tunnel and bridge, the Walkerville ferries had,
nevertheless, continued to ply back and forth between the foot of
Devonshire and the foot of Joseph Campeau in Detroit for four years
after the Windsor Ferry Company had given up the ghost (1938).
even in that late day, commuters recalled when the Wayne and Halcyon,
built for the ferry service in 1923 and 1925 respectively, were
the latest thing in river transport.
recalled when the Essex was launched and put into service back in
1913. And real old-timers talked of the Ariel, first of the ferries,
which was born with the company in 1881.
handwriting had been on the wall, of course, for several years.
But in their heyday in the 1920's, the reliable little gray smoke-belchers
had ferried as many as 611,283 vehicles and 568,374 pedestrians
in a single year.
you were a boy living in the north end of Walkerville during the
'20's and '30's, the ferries provided a daily service for you in
the summertime but it had nothing to do with crossing the river.
used to slip under the Peabody Bridge and cross over the CNR track.
Then, grabbing the wire mesh fence for support, work your way along
the narrow wooden ledge that ran alongside the river until you reached
when no one was looking, you jumped from the spiles the partially
submerged poles that helped protect the dock onto the foot-wide
ledge running round the ferry. If you managed to make around to
the back of the boat before a deckhand saw you and turned a hose
on you, you had only to wait until the ferry started for a wonderful
dive into the foaming, propeller-churned water six or eight feet
you were a novice at the game, you swam or drifted with the strong
current a few hundred feet downstream to the storm sewers just east
of Beard's Boathouse.
if you were one of the older and more daring of the breed, you rode
well out into the river before leaping in, and perhaps you "swam
down" which in reality meant you carried on with the current
to the twin boathouses at the foot of Moy avenue, a half-dozen blocks
weren't deterred by the stories of a boy real or fancied
who had jumped off the ferry, not knowing it was backing away from
the dock, and had been sucked into the swirling propeller blades
and slashed to death.
were you more than scarcely conscious of the weeds between you and
the safety of the shore weeds where at least one boy you actually
knew had been entangled and dragged to his watery grave.
was all part of the game. And you looked with the proper amount
of disdain upon any "sissy" who swam in a pool, or even at a supervised
one worried about water pollution. And no one called you a delinquent
for "snitching" a ride on the ferry.
was a grand and glorious way of whiling away the lazy summer days
until the long, shrill scream of the Parke-Davis whistle, accompanied
by the short, deep-throated blasts of the Hiram Walker horn, beckoned
you home for 5:00 dinner.
perhaps today as you drive across the Peabody Bridge and look upon
the massive white elevator which has so drastically changed the
scene, you may think of those days of so long ago.
of the Detroit River Photo Gallery