Discover Local Culture with a Close-to-Home Road Trip
Original post by Karen Paton-Evans, Postmedia | September 2020
All You Need is Love, according to an uplifting wall mural painted by artist Shane Wright at the start of COVID-19. Add a face mask to that positive outlook and you are ready to set off one of the Windsor Essex Road Trips freshly launched for your pleasure.
“As locals continue to want to explore, but also stay close to home, we hope that residents will embrace in full force the concept of a Road Trip in their own backyard this fall. Our campaign highlights Windsor Essex small businesses, as well as key attractions, that are open to the public and who are following recommended safety protocols to keep both their staff and visitors safe,” says Gordon Orr, CEO of Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island.
“What’s great about our campaign is that we’ve made it super easy to plan your next road trip – either by downloading one of our suggested one, two or three night Road Trip itineraries, or by creating your own custom stop-by-stop itinerary with our Mytrip Digital Itinerary Builder,” Orr explains.
Making culture accessible to everyone, Wright is beautifying Windsor neighbourhoods with thought-provoking murals. As the owner of Merch Runners at 1086 Drouillard Rd. in Ford City, custom t-shirts are his usual canvas. Passing a plain brown building daily for years, he recently asked the owner for permission to paint a mural filled with hearts and a message of love.
“Everyone is looking for a positive change during this pandemic,” Wright finds. And so he went on to paint Rosie the Riveter with the words Ford City Strong and Proud on the Ford City Financial building. Frankenstein’s monster welcomes visitors with the assurance, Don’t Be Afraid of Drouillard “to counter the negative stereotype this area has. Ford City is definitely up and coming.”
After the Ottawa Street Windsor BIA put out a call for artists several months ago, Wright was engaged to create three murals. First Nations and Andy Warhol inspired two murals now on view. “The third one I’ll be doing is a positive mural for women,” he reveals. “People are commenting on what a difference mural art is making.”
While many walk through these modern street galleries, hometown tourists are also following the hard path taken by courageous people who traveled the Underground Railroad to reach safety in Canada. The Amherstburg Freedom Museum at 277 King St. recounts tales of Black people escaping enslavement in the United States and the local folks who aided them.
Before COVID-19 restrictions were lifted and the museum complex could reopen July 28, “an influx of people donated when everything exploded with the Black Lives Matter movement. People are now coming here with that in mind. Others are coming because they want to know this history, which is not as well known as it should be,” says Mary-Katherine Whelan, curator/administrator.
Visitors look into the Taylor Log Cabin belonging to former enslaved man George Taylor and his family and tour the Nazrey A.M.E. Church, a terminal stop on the Underground Railroad. Whelan says, “The church is a national historic site and quite a draw because it’s significant for this region.”
Celebrating its 45th anniversary, the Amherstburg Freedom Museum complex is guiding registered guests in a group of 10 or less on a 50-minute tour, booked on the hour to allow time for cleaning. “Although our guests’ experiences are different than usual, they are enjoying themselves,” Whelan notes.
History is being rebuilt at the Canadian Historical Aircraft Association, where skilled volunteers restore vintage civilian and military airplanes. “Visitors are encouraged to ask questions like, ‘How long did it take to restore this Lancaster Bomber?’ It’s unique to go beneath the planes and see the guts of the project,” says Nicole Hutchinson, marketing/social media coordinator.
Accompanied by knowledgeable guides who interpret local artifacts from local WWI and WWII veterans, guests tour the big hangar at Windsor International Airport, 2600 Airport Rd.
“On Tuesdays, our WWII Mosquito Bomber project volunteers work on building a replica. It will be flight worthy,” Hutchinson says. “On Thursdays and Saturdays, the Lancaster Bomber work crew are in. The Tiger Moth project is on hold, but you can see its halted progress. Visitors find it amazing to see our other planes taxiing to the runway and out flying.”
Tales of the crews behind the planes unfold. One spotlights the heroism of Windsor pilot Bob Upcott and his crew, commemorated with a diorama of Operation Manna, a WWII humanitarian project that ultimately saw over 5,200 Allied aircraft drop nearly 11,000 tons of food to starving Dutch people.
“There are many local connections to stories we have in our archives,” Hutchinson says. “It’s powerful.”
Writers and artists are creating new stories here and wowing the world. “One of the top 10 comic book artists lives in Windsor – David Finch,” whose work includes Top Cow Productions’ Cyberforce and titles for Marvel Comics and DC Comics, says Shawn Cousineau, owner of Rogues Gallery Comics. He showcases homegrown talent at his shop at 327 Chatham St. W., Windsor.
Meredith Finch writes ROSE for Image Comics and used to pen DC Comic’s Wonder Woman and Zenescope’s Little Mermaid. Jeff Lemire’s Essex County Trilogy graphic short stories won awards for the cartoonist and attention for the region. Jason Favbok’s DC Black Label miniseries Batman: Three Jokers is “the best-selling comic DC Comics has had in a decade,” Cousineau observes.
Then there is real life superhero Owen Cargill, age 7, who self-published his comic book, The Last Family – Rise of the COVID-19. His $5 books are selling out at Rogues Gallery Comics, with proceeds supporting vaccine research.
Sewer Charyline Zonjic also helps battle coronavirus, stitching $7 “nerd masks” in superhero, sci-fi and fantasy patterns. “For every two masks she sells, we donate one to a homeless person,” says Cousineau.
Safely masked and physically distanced in sanitized stores, museums and other venues, everyone can find their own kind of adventure on Windsor Essex Road Trips.
To download free itineraries, please head to www.visitwindsoressex.com/roadtrip.