History of Windsor
Windsor was officially incorporated:
• As a Village in the year 1854
• As a Town in the year 1858
• As a City in 1892
The first European settlement in the Detroit-Windsor area occurred in the year 1701 when the Sieur De Lamothe Cadillac and approximately 100 military and civilian personnel arrived to Fort Pontchartrain on the Detroit side of the river.
European settlement remained largely confined to the Detroit side of the river until 1748 when the Jesuit mission to the Huron Indians was established on the south shore (Windsor) near the foot of the present Huron Church Road and the Ambassador Bridge. From 1748 to 1760, a French agricultural settlement developed along the Windsor side of the river, paralleling a similar settlement on the Detroit side.
Although Fort Pontchartrain surrendered to the British in 1760 and the Detroit side of the river was again officially surrendered to the United States in 1783, both sides of the river remained under effective British control until 1796, when U.S. forces took up actual occupation of Detroit. During this period, the settlement continued to grow but remained predominantly French in population, and until 1791 French civil law remained in effect. Few buildings from the period of French settlement have survived, but the street pattern of the City still reflects the French method of agricultural land division, i.e. long narrow farms fronting the river. In 1797, the original town site of Sandwich was established to accommodate persons of both French and British origin from the Detroit side of the river who wished to remain under British rule following American occupation of Detroit. This constituted the first urban settlement in what has now become the City of Windsor, and also the first significant migration of English speaking people into the Windsor area.
Sandwich developed over the following decades as the seat of government and the courts for the County of Essex. It still retains a number of buildings of the Pre-confederation Era which are of historical significance and/or which exemplify the Neo-classical and Georgian styles of architecture, which were in vogue during the first half of the nineteenth century. Two such houses are the Duff-Baby Mansion (1798) and the McGregor-Cowan house (c. 1805-09). Several log and timber farmhouses of the 1850s have been identified further east along Riverside Drive (i.e. bordage). Learn about heritage buildings in Sandwich in our Sandwich Walking Tour
As the chief port-of-entry to the region opposite Detroit, the Town of Windsor (now the downtown area) was already catching up to Sandwich in population when the Great Western Railway chose Windsor as its termination point in 1854. The arrival of the railway also marked the beginning of significant industrial development in Windsor. Due to numerous fires and the continuous redevelopment of the area over the decades, few of the early buildings in downtown Windsor still exist, but a number of Late Nineteenth Century and Early Twentieth Century buildings remain, including in particular a number of larger, upper income houses in areas immediately adjacent to the downtown area.
The arrival of the railway in 1854 also sparked the foundation of the third of Windsor's oldest settlements, Walkerville. In 1857, Hiram Walker established his distillery at the point east of downtown, where the Great Western Railway first met the waterfront. On his lands, running south of the river, Walker planned a complete town including provisions for industry, commerce, residences and agriculture (Walker Farms). The housing, a large part of which was built by Walker's own contractors, ranged from E. Chandler Walker's estate of Willistead (1906), built in the style of a Tudor manor house, to blocks of row housing for his industrial workers (1880s). Walkerville is a unique example in Canada of a Victorian new town developed by private capital, inspired by that peculiar combination of business and philanthropic motives that characterized Victorian enterprise. Fortunately, many of the early Walkerville buildings still survive in excellent condition.
Although the Ford Motor Car Company was established in Windsor as early as 1904 to gain the benefit of Imperial trade preferences, it was the period during and following World War I which saw the auto industry assume predominance in the City. An area known as "Ford City" was developed around the industrial complex. Numerous large residences were built overlooking the river at that time.
The automotive industry changed Windsor from a relatively slow growing collection of border communities to a rapidly growing, modern industrial city. By the early 1930s, the separate Border Cities of Windsor, East Windsor (Ford City), Walkerville and Sandwich amalgamated politically into a single community with a population of over 100,000.
In the Second World War, industrial production increased dramatically, attracting many new workers and resulting in substantial residential growth within the city and in the surrounding townships. The Town of Riverside, incorporated in 1921, had already absorbed some of the spillover. In 1966 the City annexed the Towns of Riverside and Ojibway, and parts of Sandwich East, Sandwich South and Sandwich West Townships.
Windsor rose to pre-eminence in the area at an early date, and with a population of about 200,000 at the dawn of the 21st century, it has continued to be, by far, the largest urban centre in the county.
To learn more about the History of Windsor, visit the Windsor Public Library's Digital Exhibits.
To learn about Heritage Planning in the City of Windsor, please visit the Planning Department's Heritage Planning pages.
Images courtesy of Don Wilson's Collection.
For general information, please call 311. For detailed inquiries, contact:
Suite 404B, 400 City Hall Square East
Windsor, Ontario CANADA N9A 7K6
Phone: (519) 255-6543 Fax: (519) 255-6544