“Our Walk Through History”
I always enjoyed studying history but when I became a small part involved within that history, the past took on a whole new meaning. My wife and I were born and raised in Windsor, Ontario in areas west and east respectively of the city, both areas steeped in history. My wife grew up in what was once known as Old Sandwich, named after the Earl of Sandwich, considered one of the oldest most historic settlements in Ontario well represented in the history books in regard to the war of 1812. The eastern part of Windsor was once known as Old Walkerville, a name some elderly folk still refuse to abandon although in 1935 both Sandwich and Walkerville were amalgamated with Windsor formulating the city of Windsor.
Old Walkerville was established by Hiram Walker, born in Massachusetts in 1816 but travelled west to Detroit opening a grocery store. He began distilling his own cider vinagar but soon after branched into whiskey. His product was well received and he saw the potential of a great expansion though not in Michigan but across the river in Canada. He purchased three farms east of Windsor and began clearing vast areas of land for his distillery along the Detroit River which enabled his new venture to grow his own grain, mill flour and raise cows and hogs all fed with the left over mash from his distillery. Walker was sued by American whiskey makers who demanded his labels denoted “made in Canada” and the famous Hiram Walkers Canadian Club Whiskey was launched. Enjoying huge success, he began building his own community of housing all within a few miles of the distillery, a small community called Walkerville. He built his own railroad and ferry back and forth to Michigan continually constructing homes and cottages for his employees. In order to control those who worked or lived in Walkerville, Hiram leased the properties, it was only after his death the houses were allowed to be sold. And this is where our part of the history lesson began.
In 1964 my wife and I purchased a home in what was once Old Walkerville, a beautiful two story house with stained glass windows specially shipped from Ireland, a two inch thick 8 x 10 foot hardwood panel that slid into an entire section of a wall, a secret closet entered from the living room and exited into a side bedroom, solid cedar staircases and boasting eight rooms with two baths.
We purchased the home because the house simply suited our needs at that time, it was months later we found out our home had significant historic value. According to Windsor’s Willistead Library, the house was built around 1865 by Hiram Walker for one of the original Directors of the Distillery. The house stayed in our family for close to forty years, we were actually living history, just think, Hiram Walker may have even walked those very floors.