Take a look at Sandwich’s hidden gems

Simar Kalra
By Simar Kalra April 22, 2018 08:03

The sign that greets everyone who comes to the “west side.” Photo by Simar Kaur

By Simar Kaur

The City of Windsor has many special places and most of them have a tale to tell. But Old Sandwich Towne — or Sandwich, for short — has its own unique place in Windsor’s history and a richness its people are more than willing to share.

 

A brief history

By decree of King George III, Sandwich was established in 1797 as the legislative seat of government of the western district of Upper Canada. The land had been bought from the Huron Indians. This was their property and was developed by the people who were loyal to the Crown. The lands were one acre in size and were developed from what we know now as Detroit Street to Brock Street.

It is the oldest living surviving community west of Montreal and a portion of the community has been declared a heritage district.

Major-General Sir Isaac Brock, a British army officer and colonial administrator, and Shawnee Chief Tecumseh are most famous for taking the fort in Detroit without firing a shot. They gathered on the side of the river and crossed with very few native people and General Brock leading them.

They saved this area, helping the people here to define themselves as true Canadian.

But this town, with its a rich bank of historic buildings, has many tales to tell.

Some of the locals talk about how Sandwich is haunted by goblins, spirits and ancient creatures, including Le Loup Garou, apparently a werewolf. There are many different versions of this story, which have been told over the last 300 years. This is a reminder that traditional storytelling is still alive and vital in historic Old Sandwich Towne.

The community has other unique features that make it special, but its residents feel they struggle for the attention from the rest of Windsor.

It has been lost somewhere in its own history and people here feel left out.

Some long-time residents and local activists want to promote Sandwich’s history, its storytelling culture and its unique vibe.

Mary Ann Cuderman runs a bake shop from her house. She has lived in this neighbourhood for 20 years and owns a gem — her home was given a heritage designation in 1977.

Its Georgian architecture was built by a fur trader. It has a unique fireplace system, called French Canadian, because of the placement of the fire boxes and the chimneys. It is the only house that is known in Ontario to still have both English and French-Canadian architectural elements of the heating system.

“We try to protect and keep the house for future generations to enjoy,” says Cuderman, sitting in her living room with old paintings of Sandwich Towne on her walls.

She opens the house twice a year for visitors who want to take tour and understand the history.

“When you have a heritage house, it doesn’t mean the whole house. It means certain features of the house. You can actually change the entire house from inside, but as long as the chimneys and windows stay there it’s still a heritage,” says Cuderman.

 

The ignored town

Even having a rich history, the town has always been ignored.

“What hurts us more is the development of the Ambassador Bridge. It has already taken over 150 houses,” says Cuderman, referring to the bridge over the Detroit River that connects Canada and the United States. It runs right along the eastern edge of Sandwich.

The Ambassador Bridge company has been locked in a dispute for years with the City of Windsor and a number of Sandwich residents. It has been trying to buy up land, so it can tear down the old homes to make room for a new span of the bridge. The current span is about 90 years old.

The boarded-up houses and the empty lots along Indian Road give the town a barren look.

“To keep a house here is a luxury,” says Cuderman.

The image of this side of the city has been changed, and it hurts Cuderman. She says people should not judge Sandwich by the way it looks.

“The perception that this is not a safe area is basically because of the look of the houses. It’s not the people.”

As the home owners moved to richer and more economically-developed areas, many walked away from these houses and don’t maintain them. It has given Sandwich the reputation of being a poorer area of the city.

 

Sandwiched between two bridges

As development and modern advancements happened on the other side of the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, this side of the bridge has not been developed as much.

“We have lost a school and a bank, but people here are very resilient. Most of the business here are smart enough to develop their business based on community. We have to be very innovative and find niches that bring people from all over the county into Windsor. Some of the businesses that have been here for a while have managed to do that,” says Cuderman.

Terrence Kennedy, a local citizen historian of Sandwich Towne, has been fighting for the area since his teens. He feels the real heroes are the families who still live here.

“Sandwich Towne is a vibrant neighbourhood. First, we put up murals and then we put in the festivals. We put in the ghost tours and other bus tours. We continually reinvented ourselves. We have beer festivals and events that happen year-round. We have things that make us unique in all of North America. We have been on this river for eons,” he says.

The murals in the community are a depiction of the history and a way to let future generations and tourists learn about this place and why it is so historically important.

Murals are keeping the history alive in Old Sandwich Town

“We started to do murals and we made sure that we chose local and homegrown artists from the community. I made sure that at least the history is right. We had the names of people, that when future generations see it, they could say, ‘Oh see, there is grandma’s name’ or ‘There is grandpa’s name.’ (They can see) something that we or they did in the history of Sandwich Towne,” says Kennedy.

The locals also like to point out the prominent personalities who have visited this area and even lived here.

“Mr. Lincoln have visited here. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s family, the Rodham’s, as well as (actress) Patricia Arquette’s family have been here. People have no idea what historical personalities were here. We are not one-horse town or one-story town. Sandwich Towne is unique in all North America,” adds Kennedy.

According to Kennedy, there are people who want to hear these stories and want to know more about this place, and he worries the history might fade if it’s not properly preserved.

“There is no museum in the city or Sandwich Towne particularly for the history of this town. How many people do we have lost, how many buildings do we have to lose before the history is scrubbed away?” he asks, noting Sandwich was also historically important before slavery was abolished in the United States.

“We (were) saving people from slavery in the States with the underground railroad and bringing them here,” he says.

Even if this neighbourhood is ignored by some, people who live here, including Mary Ann Cuderman and Terrence Kennedy, love the area.

“Sandwich Towne, to me, is the safest place in the city of Windsor. It has the best people that you could ever ask for it — very loyal people, friendly people and that’s what Sandwich Towne is to me,” says Cuderman.

The history, the heritage and the people are the things that make this place special and different from other neighbourhoods in the city.

There are many hidden gems in this area like Mackenzie Hall, the Duff Baby House, Cuderman’s heritage house and the underground railroad sites, including the Sandwich First Baptist Church made by slaves — and many more.

But the real gems are the people who lived and are living here: people from the earlier times, including the Indigenous people. Also important is how they developed from 1812 to 1861 and how law was practised in the area. These are the things people should know about Sandwich.

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St. Clair College’s international students at the Mediaplex (most of whom do not speak English as a first language) took on the enormous task of researching and writing feature-length stories. For their final projects ─ we call them capstones ─ they explored topics that intrigued them. They all brought unique perspectives to their stories. We hope you enjoy reading their work and seeing Windsor through their eyes.

Simar Kalra
By Simar Kalra April 22, 2018 08:03

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CAPSTONE PROJECTS 2017-2018