If you think Ontario ends at London, think again. Just another few hundred kilometres down Highway 401 you’ll reach Windsor, population 250,000 and the second-busiest border crossing between Canada and the U.S. I’ve lived, worked and travelled all over the world, but every so often I find myself craving a taste of home. Windsor has a fascinating history to discover: it’s the automotive capital of Canada and was a stop on the Underground Railroad, with many refugee slaves fleeing across the Detroit River to freedom. It’s also got a thriving food and entertainment scene that make it well worth a look for a weekend getaway this summer.
Here are my Windsor-born-and-raised tips on how to live like a local in the Rose City.
Fresh produce and snacks
Get your fresh produce and pastries at the Downtown Windsor Farmers’ Market, a bustling market that takes up two blocks of a downtown city street on Saturdays from the end of May through the end of October. The market has served as the catalyst for many successful small businesses — my favourites being The Cheese Bar, Little Foot Foods and Robbie’s Gourmet Sausages — and truly epitomizes the concept of local, done right. A kid’s craft corner, chef demonstrations, a happy puppet dance show and even free reusable bags made from old t-shirts make this a great way to spend a Saturday in the heart of the city. Make sure you meet the preteen “assistant manager” — she’s the one reminding you to walk your bike instead of riding it through the busy street.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, farmer’s markets have been deemed an essential service. The DWFM has implemented a number of protocols to recognize pandemic conditions, including expanding spaces between vendors, reducing the number of vendors permitted to sell, and limiting the number of shoppers onto the street. All entertainment activities at the market have been temporarily paused until they are safe to resume.
Books to read
Find your next read at the proudly independent Biblioasis Bookshop, found in the Walkerville neighbourhood. A local favourite since 1998, the store sells new and used books and highlights local authors through a consignment system. If you’re looking for something old, unusual, or a spot-on recommendation, stop in and let the booksellers find your next great read. Since 2004, Bilbioasis has also operated a publishing house, printing books such as Lucky Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyport and Mark Bourrie’s Bush Runner.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person shopping at Biblioasis has not been permitted. Instead, personal virtual shopping and a comprehensive online inventory means Windsorites can get books delivered right to their door, or pick them up at the curb.
Places to play
The Wizards of Walkerville board game cafe is just three years old, but has quickly become a favourite in Windsor’s historic Ottawa Street neighbourhood. Stop in for nachos, cheesecake from their Bad Witch Bakery sister and challenge your friends to a game of Settlers of Catan.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Wizards of Walkerville has offered curbside pick up and delivery of the board games they sell, plus pick up and delivery of their Bad Witch Bakery cheesecakes. The owners have also been hard at work blocks away from their initial location to open a bakery storefront once the pandemic’s restrictions have eased.
A lot of locals will tell you one of the best things about Windsor is its proximity to Detroit. Rather than hop across the border, take in the glittering skyline of the Motor City with a walk down Windsor’s riverfront. The five-kilometre paved pathway features gardens, sculptures and great people-watching en route.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the police presence on the riverfront has been stepped up to ensure that physical distancing guidelines of two metre spacing and groups less than five are being followed. Playgrounds along the riverfront have been closed, but the sculpture garden remains accessible for viewing.
For the vegans
What was at first a pop-up doughnut shop has become a Riverside neighbourhood treasure, Plant Joy. Owner Jordynne Ropat ventured into business after completing a neuroscience degree and relied on kitchens in other businesses before being able to open her own storefront. The handmade vegan doughnuts are organic and fair trade, with fan favourites ranging from the classic Canadian maple dip to the more exotic lemon lavender flavour. For special occasions the Plant Joy team will even make letter doughnuts so you can celebrate with doughnuts spelling out what’s happening. Get there early in the day because the lineup tends to run out the door!
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Plant Joy has offered special order-ahead and pick-up days. Due to the small size of their kitchen they’re unable to offer full service. Join their mailing list to be the first to know when orders are being accepted — the first round of orders sold out in less than 30 minutes. The company has also created doughnut-themed colouring pages that are free to download during the pandemic.