Ultimate Girls Weekend: WIFF Like a Local

Original blog by Kathryn of Kathryn Anywhere | November 5, 2019

Not all girl getaway weekends involve spas and pedicures. For some of us ladies, our idea of a fun time away involves distillery and brewery tours and traveling to another city to attend the opening weekend of a film festival. My friend, Kasia and I traveled from Toronto to Windsor, Ontario to attend the 15th Annual Windsor International Film Festival opening weekend with our extra highlights being touring and tasting the J.P. Wiser Distillery and Walkerville Brewery. Of course, we ate our way around the city too, but it’s not every day we get to see where 80% of Canada’s whisky is made and then taste it on site.

Day 1

Upon our Via Rail arrival on Friday morning, we hit Grand Cantina in the Ford City area of Windsor, a newly developing area. The restaurant is described as a Central American and South Asian fusion street food joint. I’m a sucker for a good taco and the tacos I had there were the bomb. It was on this street corner that Grand Cantina is located that we noticed the presence of some amazing street art and then we saw it everywhere.

I was on an unrelated work trip to Windsor at the beginning of October and strolling around the downtown core, I definitely saw some street art then, but now seeing that it was everywhere around the city? It’s pretty outstanding. The street art that is found around Windsor is not messy graffiti. Every mural tells a story from the history of the auto workers to the present day of unifying races. Toronto folk are tough to impress and I’m impressed.

Who knew that Windsor was such a hotbed for artistic talent? Straight up, Windsor has a reputation of being gritty and scrappy. Let’s just get it out of the way that Windsor has seen some ups and downs throughout its life. Currently, the Walkerville area is seeing a huge gentrification and is attracting a lot of buyers to the housing market. The downtown core has some modern and trendy bars and restaurants opening up. Both the University of Windsor and St. Clair College have opened campuses in the downtown area. It seems like Rose City is about to bloom.

Quick little journey down to the Walkerville area, we made out way to the J.P. Wiser Distillery for the tour and behind the scenes experience. This Canadian icon… or should I say, the institution of Hiram Walker’s legacy has stood since before Canada was even a county and long before citizens even paid this thing called taxes. At J.P. Wiser’s you learn all about the steep and rich history of whisky is not just the Windsor area, but also throughout Canada. 

While hearing the stories of prohibition and industry you’re taken through the cooking, fermentation, and distillation process. I can’t give away too much of the information, because it’s very top secret, but I did get to stick my finger into the “mash”, which is distilled corn. When the time came to sample four different kinds of whisky in the tasting room, it was like years of sweet history in my mouth. 

After checking into our sweet accommodations at the Townplace Suites by Marriott, it was time for pre-show cocktails at Maiden Lane Wine & Spirits. Each night of the film festival, Maiden Lane is serving up a special WIFF cocktail. The night I was in, they were serving up the “Rose”. Paired with a charcuterie board and vegetarian snacks for Kasia and we were happy ladies out for a night on the town in Windsor!

Walking north on Ouellette Street towards the Chrysler Theatre, Windsor has a buzz in the air, there is excitement! Could it be because it is the opening night of the 15th Annual Windsor International Film Festival? Maybe because WIFF was named the number one volunteer-run film festival in the country? Or that there is about to be 21 local films in the programming calendar showcasing how much talent comes from the area? Or that 42 films selected for the festival are Francophone of that 46 films were shown at TIFF, one of the world’s leading film festivals showing off how strong the selections were that WIFF volunteers were able to attract.

The opening night, Kasia and I attended Les Invisibles at the Chrysler Theatre in the St. Clair Centre For The Arts, a French film from France heavy on the feminist anthem, with a side of comedy and a feel-good theme of empowerment. Following the opening night party, we journeyed over to the Capitol Theatre through WIFF Alley for a screening of Slut… In A Good Way. What a delightful surprise that film was – hilarious feature movie out of Quebec of a teenage girl getting over her ex-boyfriend by getting under numerous other males. Both films I highly recommend seeing!

What is WIFF Alley? WIFF Alley is an amazing corridor of art and culture as a tribute to the film festival in the alleyway north from University Street, almost right in front of the Capitol Theatre. The transformation to this alleyway includes lights and was made possible as a joint project between local businesses and the City Of Windsor. 

Day 2

After crashing in our really comfortable queen-sized beds at the Townplace Suites by Marriott and having a glorious sleep and then a great hot continental breakfast, it was up and at it for the screening of I’m Going to Break Your Heart – a documentary on the martial struggles of Raine Maida and Chantel Kreviazuk. You don’t need to be fans of these Canadian musical artists (titans?) to relate to this film and what the couple is going through after 19 years together.

Lunch at Bread Meats Bread was fast and delicious. This is one of those trendy new restaurants re-surging Windsor’s downtown core. Bread Meats Bread is a little gem gleaming in the rubble. Once we finished up my Italian Job sandwich and Kasia’s salad, it was off to a screening of Last Call.

Last Call is a Windsor made, intense and dark film about a suicidal alcoholic who accidentally dials a wrong number trying to call a helpline. I think, and I’m sorry if I speak out of turn on this, that a lot of us find stories like this hitting close to home. Without divulging too many of my own family secrets, I’ve definitely been on the receiving end of a family member looking for help. I found myself halfway through the film on the edge of my seat, desperate to see what happened next. The emotions felt at the end of this were tough to compartmentalize and almost immediately after, we turned to the delightful documentary Scotch: A Golden Dream. This was the sleeper almost comedy hit for me. Scottish men are funny. Especially ones who make Scotch. None of them looked like they belong in the Outlander, but I’ll forgive that. You will too.

After our education on the who’s who of the Scotch industry in Scotland, we make out way to Vito’s Pizzeria in Walkerville for an authentic Italian Wood fried pizza and pasta for dinner. Great for date nights, gatherings of friends, this hopping place is also ideal for a great girl’s night out, with comfort food just like someone’s Italian Mom used to make. My Mom is a Newfoundlander, so I can’t relate to their tagline description unless ham or a beef brisket and potatoes are the jam. However, I certainly appreciate the comfort food aspect. It is really cool to see the nightlife out of the downtown core of Windsor. This restaurant was packed and when we left, there was a line up at the door waiting to get in. The blossoming rose, I’m telling you…

A quick Uber ride back to downtown brought us to Craftheads for a flight of Windsor’s finest craft beer and then back to the Capitol Theatre for David Crosby; Remember My Name, a raw throwback to the musical for sex, drugs and rock and roll. And by the sounds of it, it was a lot of sex and a lot of drugs with familiar musical characters like Joanie Mitchell and Momma Cas showing up in the archival film that illustrated the scene so well. David Crosby says he has no idea how he is still alive. Like a Keith Richards, I guess. Music fans of the 1960’s and 70’s will enjoy the neighbourhood tour David Crosby takes the viewers on and recaps his triumphs and regrets.

The rest of the moviegoers attended Parasite, a Korean film said to be the front runner for the People’s Choice award. 

Day 3

Lucky for us, the opening weekend of the Windsor International Film Festival coincided with daylight savings time and the clocks falling backward on Sunday morning. For us, that meant an extra hour of sleep. Since I’m a Mom and I was enjoying a weekend away from my kids, that’s a welcome reprieve. And it allowed me the opportunity to actually get up, have coffee and be on time for the 9:00 am screening of La Belle Epoque on a Sunday. Really thought-provoking for a Sunday morning too, ha!

Once that finished, it was over to The Squirrel Cage for Windsor’s most amazing brunch in Maiden Lane. You know a place is good when you walk in and there’s a line-up of locals all bustling and jonesing to get in. The food, atmosphere, and service does not disappoint. Hands down, this is where you want to go in the morning for a chill time with a great meal and some home decor inspiration. The wooden tables have me lusting for a dining room makeover. 

With still a few hours to go before our 5:45 pm train home to Toronto, we took in Willie, the story of hockey great Willie O’Ree, the first African Canadian player in the NHL and the long road of his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame. It’s a wonderful profile of the man, his legendary career and his continued work with coloured youth and hockey.

With a bit more time left before our train, we knew we had to hit up the Walkerville Brewery – a craft brewery in the area developed by Hiram Walker over 150 years ago. In fact, this craft brewery is in a building that once housed whisky distillation. One of the brewery partners, Ian was kind enough to show us around as part of the perfect ending to our girl’s weekend! We pretty much started in whiskey barrels at the J.P. Wiser’s experience and ended in them too! Yes, that’s right, there are former whiskey barrels housing stout beer as part of a brew-master technique to flavour their special brew. And all I can say about that beer is wow! Nose that stout beer as if you are nosing a whisky or scotch and you’ll be impressed. The taste is a rich and heavy smokey barrel with a whisky splash on the tongue. It was unlike any stout beer I’ve ever drank in my life. And the cider – this is Walkerville Brewery’s first year doing cider and Ian was eager to share his new knowledge on which apples are the best and the techniques they are using to perfect their formula.

Ending our girl’s weekend at Walkerville Brewery was an absolutely perfect wrap up. Mainly because we were able to purchase cans of beer to take home with us on the train to enjoy later in the week and think back about the fun and laughs we had.

For those of you heading out this week to enjoy the film festival and all Windsor has offer, be sure to check out:

  • WIFF Village – During the second weekend of the film festival, in front of Capitol Theatre, there will be live entertainment and “signature events”.
  • WIFF Alley – More amazing street art in Windsor! 
  • WIFF Local – there are 11 local full feature and 12 shorts films being showcased at the festival
  • The Women of WIFF film is Untouchable, viewing Thursday, November 7 at 6:00 pm
  • Mark Boscariol 48 Hour flick fest scheduled for Friday night starting at 8:45 pm
  • Winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race and All-Star Champion, Trixie Mattel hosts a screening of the cult classic Priscilla – Queen of the Desert on Saturday, November 9th at 8:30 pm followed by WIFF dance street party!  And on that note, there are 21 LGTBTQ+ films displaying the proud diversity of the community of Windsor.

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