Staying in Southern Ontario, we drove down to the Southernmost part of Canada to the city of Windsor. Probably the most notable thing about Windsor is that it is another border town, lying directly across the river from Detroit in the USA, which is the main reason we travelled to the area.
My husband has been to Detroit many, many times and was keen to take me to there on this trip and show me the unbelievable decline of a city in the richest nation on earth. Given Detroit’s reputation I was not so keen to stay in Detroit, but Windsor was a great option to park ourselves so we could then travel back and forth across the border. In Trivial Pursuit, there is a flummoxing question: where can you travel North into the US from Canada and vice versa? Answer: Detroit/ Windsor. Due to geography, Windsor sits south of Detroit, and the locals have given it the nickname South Detroit.
Windsor is a small city, with a nice main street and quite a large middle eastern population. There’s not a lot of sights, but it’s nice to hang out in and the riverside walk with views across to downtown Detroit is stunning. Most importantly, it’s very safe! However, and quite annoyingly, it also has casinos, even a Caesar’s Palace. Again very strange, but thankfully not quite the ruckus of Niagara.
My husband and I went over to Detroit for the day, driving through the tunnel that connects the two countries. The Detroit/Windsor tunnel and the nearby Ambassador Bridge are the two busiest border crossings between Canada and the US, mainly due to the amount of freight that passes through. Border lineups can stretch for miles at busy times; thankfully we only had a 30 minute wait for the pleasure of speaking to a grumpy American border guard.
The tunnel exits straight into downtown Detroit and the first thing that you notice is how well kept it is. There’s been so much investment in the downtown core over the last few years that it now appears to be quite gentrified. There was a baseball game on that day so there were lots of people out and about, and the streets looked clean and tidy.
The downtown core is a very small area though, and it doesn’t take long to see the effects of a bankrupt city. Most people have seen the pictures of the abandoned and burnt out houses of Detroit, but you can’t quite believe it until you see whole streets that are that are barren, with only the occasional burnt out or dilapidated house. It is utterly fascinating. I must say, I felt terrible taking pictures of these areas; there are still many good people in Detroit that have seen their neighbourhoods fall apart due to the social and economic decline. I am so glad that I got to witness the effects though. It really should be a warning to all of us about what happens when a city and its inhabitants are abandoned.
On a more positive note – The Detroit Institute of Arts is probably one of the best art galleries I have been to. You may have to drive past a burning house to get to it, but it is one of the most extensive collections I have seen in North America. The highlight is the industry murals painted by Diego Rivera in the 1930’s, which are in amazingly good condition.
We also drove to the city limits of Detroit and suddenly it all becomes main street USA. The towns just outside are lovely with small businesses and treelined streets. One of the most striking of these is the community of Grosse Point – large houses, nice cars and Trader Joe’s on one side of the street and burnt out decay on the other side – Detroit. You couldn’t make it up!
We popped back into downtown for a coney dog and some fries at Detroit institution Lafayette’s, had a look at Tiger stadium, and then it was back into the tunnel to return to Canada, where the Canadian border guard was mildly curious about how we got from Newfoundland to Windsor.
Canadians and Americans – so alike in many ways, yet so different sometimes!