Story by Dick Hildebrand
Stop the presses! It’s here – the official story of Ford City which was around long before Windsor ever became a city and became the centre of the area’s industrial development.
Former CBC announcer Herb Colling has assembled detailed information about this colorful time in Windsor’s history and presented it in an extremely fascinating book simply titled ‘FORD CITY’.
Colling says it began as a two year project back in 2011 on a suggestion from Biblioasis publisher Dan Wells. Because of busy schedules, work on the book began slowly as is evidenced by the fact that it finally became a reality six years later with its release in November of 2017. It was a painstaking job. Colling did all the research himself, while Sharon Hanna who was mainly responsible for the last issue of ‘From The Vault’ collected the pictures and assisted with the editing.
Like many other settlers in our city, Herb Colling was a transplant. He was born in Orillia and began travelling at an early age, having attended high school in Midland and university in both Toronto and Ottawa. His broadcasting career began at CKMP in Midland as “the weekend guy, because they couldn’t get anybody else to do it…nobody wanted the shift and nobody wanted to work for peanuts.” He worked for the CBC in Ottawa and was transferred to Windsor for what he thought would be a two year job with CBE in 1979. Needless to say, the job lasted much longer than even Herb had expected since he’s still here, 38 years later! He retired from the network in 2009. Three years earlier, he won the E.J.Lajeunesse Award for his preservation of local history. As a freelance writer, his travel stories have appeared in the Ottawa Citizen, the Windsor Star and the London Free Press. He’s been a stamp collector since early childhood and is currently the editor of The Canadian Philatelist, a national stamp magazine which is published by the Royal Philatelic Society of Canada.
Windsor’s history has always fascinated Herb and he’s written five books about it. ‘FORD CITY’ is what he calls a culmination of his earlier efforts which generally featured some aspects of the auto industry as it pertained to this area. But cars are certainly not the whole story. Ford City was a rum-running hub, a hotbed of Communist agitation in World War ll and a thriving cultural centre for the people of the Border cities.
The book takes the reader on a journey east of Walker Road which at one time was mainly agricultural land with a few woodlots and three semi-industrial buildings by the waterfront – a pork processing plant, a barrel stave company and the Walkerville Wagon Works which, at the time, was heavily in debt and nearly bankrupted. Since cars appeared to be the wave of the future, owner Gordon Morton McGregor approached maverick Detroit automaker Henry Ford about buying the property and as the old saying goes, “the rest is history.” In 1904 the Ford Motor Company began operations in Windsor and even though it didn’t sell many cars in Canada, Henry Ford’s enterprise had gained him access to the entire British empire which had markets in India, Singapore and Hong Kong…anywhere there was a British colony. And once Ford had established a foothold in the area, other carmakers and parts makers like Dominion Forge entered the fray.
In fact, Walker Road had become extremely active with plants like REO and Studebaker and in its heyday, that artery was one of the largest power users in all of Ontario. In order to get people to their jobs houses were built close to the plant and Ford City began taking shape. It begins at St. Luke which is just east of Walker Road, over to Raymo just past Pillette and heading from the riverfront up to Seminole. With its own town hall and police department, the area grew quickly over the next 25 years. As Colling writes: “during the first two decades of the twentieth century Ford City became one of the fastest-growing, most diverse municipalities in the country. Labourers and tradesmen, from Europe and elsewhere in Canada, flocked to the area in the hope of finding a better job, a better life.” On the downside, Ford City grew too quickly and was poorly planned, resulting in a hodge-podge of businesses that weren’t compatible with each other.
‘FORD CITY’ contains 14 chapters of automotive history including a section on the 99 day strike that began September 12th, 1945, an event that would “establish unions as we know them today.” As the author writes…“these men and women successfully paralyzed the company, preventing access by management and forced the shutdown of Ford’s operations in Windsor...the actions were both visual and visceral in a bitter dispute that would figure largely in the fate of Ford city itself.” At the time, Ford in Windsor employed at least 10,000 workers.
From the opening words ‘FORD CITY’ is a sentimental journey. The reader is given a detailed look at the rise and fall of Drouillard Road, which at one time had been considered to be designated as Windsor’s main street. Even today residents of the area remain fiercely loyal to their section of the city. The book begins with the early history of the area, setting the stage for major industrial development which leads to a major boom, then to a bust when Ford moves its assembly operations to Oakville and finally, the rejuvenation of Drouillard Road…more than 200 pages of material.
‘FORD CITY’ is readily available for $24.95, a small price considering the wealth of material contained between its covers. As Herb likes to say, “it’s available right here in the trunk of my car and I deliver”. It’s also on the shelves of Biblioasis, Juniper Books, Indigo and Chapters. Contact Herb by email at
This book is a real page turner. Readers are guaranteed to spend a few sleepless nights as they begin their walk through the industrial heart of Windsor. Herb Colling has indeed hit it out of the park!