History of Windsor, Canada
For the countless centuries preceding European exploration and settlement, Native Americans inhabited the Windsor area. Its roots as the oldest continuous European settlement in Ontario west of Montreal date back to 1728 when a Jesuit mission was established near present day Assumption Church. Eventually, four major communities evolved from a handful of French homesteads along the Detroit River. The first name given to the area was petite cote (Little Coast). It later became known as La Cote De Misere (Poverty Coast) due to the sandy, infertile soils near La Salle. A French heritage is proudly present at every Windsor street corner, with names like Pelissier, Langlois, Francois and Pierre.
The street system, which is composed of a grid with elongated blocks, reflects the French method of agricultural land division where long and narrow farms faced the river.
The settlement of Sandwich, founded in 1797, was a fur-trading post, which quickly became the seat of the government and courts for the entire region. It was later renamed Windsor, after Windsor Castle in Berkshire, England. Back in 1892, before it was officially a city, there was quite a controversy about what it should be called. The most popular contenders were “South Detroit,” “The Ferry” (from the ferries that linked Windsor to Detroit), Richmond (the runner-up in popularity) and Windsor which was chosen over the others because of its English name as many of the settlers in the area were English.
The railroad in 1854 coupled with the ferry service from Detroit to the foot of present-day Ouellette Avenue, which had been established in 1836, led to Windsor’s rapid development. Windsor was a major entry point into Canada for refugees from slavery via the Underground Railroad and a major source of liquor during American Prohibition.
The city’s oldest buildings, including Mackenzie Hall which was originally built as the Essex County Courthouse in 1855, functions today as an important community center. Windsor’s oldest building is the Duff-Baby House, which dates back to 1792. In 1812, the Francois House was built and today it houses the Windsor Community Museum dedicated to local history. The city was the site of a famous a battle during the Upper Canadian Rebellion of 1837 and in 1854 became established as a village. This was the same year that the Grand Trunk Railway/ Canadian National Railway connected the village to the rest of Canada. Windsor achieved town status in 1858 and officially became a city in 1892.
An Amalgamation of Windsor Neighborhoods
Although until 1935 Sandwich, Ford City and Walkerville were separate towns, today they are considered historic sections of Windsor alone. In 1966, the nearby village of Ojibway was annexed to Windsor, and in 1998 Windsor became a city in its own right, legally set apart from Essex County.