A book, launched April 2 at Windsor’s Chimczuk Museum, might be the key to opening up the global potential of the Detroit River. Windsor and Detroit could find themselves with an asset equal to the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Statue of Liberty in New York. Both are United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) world heritage sites.
Led by Detroit historian Kimberly Simmons, a dedicated group are trying to convince the United Nation’s outfit to accord such an honour to the river. They have been toiling in the background for some eight years.
Now, the publication of A Fluid Frontier: Slavery, Resistance and the Underground Railroad in the Detroit River Borderland neatly ties up and documents all the loose ends behind the significant role the river played during the movement of slaves in earlier centuries.
In its time, the river was a veritable freeway for owned servants escaping captivity in Canada, by crossing to Detroit, and for those who travelled the Underground Railroad to make it to a slave-free life in Canada. A short trip over the river could remove them from the tyranny of slavery by their Canadian or American masters.
Working to gain UNESCO standing is no idle pursuit. In fact, those behind the movement are so encouraged by the new book they openly talk of it being pivotal to the cause.
What is more important for a city like Windsor, which has basically abandoned much of its history beyond the dribble of tiny bits it stuffed into the Chimczuk, a monumental disappointment, is the river gaining heritage status could give Windsor something it seriously lacks.
This is a sustainable way to attract tourists all year round.
Desperate for attention, the Francis Council has foolishly been spending like drunk sailors on flash-in-the-pan sporting events. The council knows almost anyone with enough money can easily win the rights to host these dubious, costly events.
Going beyond and building a year-long tourism sector takes courage, dedication and, to put it mildly, pure hard work, something anathema to the council.
It is simply much more convenient to, for example, drop $21 million on FINA; to bring a small and predictable number of elite swimmers to the city for a single week in December.
Windsor is not a swimming destination and certainly what it offers can be readily found elsewhere, because it failed to build a natatorium of distinction. However, the Detroit River is something no other community can boast about, save Detroit.
Its waterway is worldly attractive because of its history. According to the UNESCO website, cultural tourism, “… is one of the largest and fastest-growing global tourism markets. Culture and creative industries are increasingly being used to promote destinations and enhance their competitiveness and attractiveness.”
Windsor’s councillors need to give their heads a shake and abandon costly sports tourism pursuits, which are fleeting and short lived. They need to start being more adult in how they spend taxpayer’s money. They can show sincerity by supporting Simmons and her group of historians and others on both sides of the river.
Next, the council needs to sharpen its thinking cap, which seems to have been dulled during the all-glitz era of the previous Francis Council. The long process of finding other opportunities to create sustainable tourism needs to be started. This could include creating a world-class museum celebrating Canada’s motor city.
Robert Tuomi can be heard at noon every Thursday co-hosting Talkin’ ‘Bout Windsor on CJAM 99.1 FM. Listen on demand to previous episodes or catch the discussion live and join in. It is also streamed online at CJAM.