Riverside's chronicler covers the waterfront

Marty Gervais
Windsor StarWednesday, February 20, 2008
Rick Fullerton was driving along Wyandotte one day about a year ago and decided to stop at the library in old Riverside.

He had grown up on Reedmere, attended Edith Cavell public school and later Riverside high school, and still nurtured a fondness for the old neighbourhood.

That's why he stopped by the library. He hoped to look up its history before amalgamation joined it to Windsor.

No such luck.

No history.

Fullerton couldn't believe it. That's what got him started on writing that history. It's called Our Town: A History of Riverside, Ontario 1921-1966.

He published it through his printing company, Print Works.

My interest in it was immediately piqued because the cover photograph is my old neighbourhood near Prado Place. The picture shows Frank's coffee shop on the north side of Wyandotte, across from the Legion. And that's where I darted between two parked cars in 1951, and was struck by a car going westbound. I remember nothing about it except running, then hearing the siren of the ambulance before passing out once again.

I'd love to find that driver and talk to him about that day.

In any case, Fullerton's book is a collection of tales, historical articles and some 150 or more photographs of Riverside.

The story of the town begins with the St. Louis family in the 18th century.

Louis St. Louis moved from Petite Cote, now LaSalle, to 300 acres he bought from the Indians, the land extending from the Detroit River deep into the wilderness, in what today encompasses the area known as Riverside.

It was upon lot #115, that now comprises the streets of Villaire, St. Louis, and Reedmere, that St. Louis built his home, a log fortress in the wilderness in 1780.

St. Louis is considered the first white settler in Sandwich East.

Years later, in 1924, his descendants provided the land for the building of St. Rose Roman Catholic Church.

A fascinating story, too, is one about another pioneer, Paul Le Duc. He owned the property where the first steam ferry boats used to stop to collect the supply of wood necessary for keeping their vessels operating.

Le Duc was an eccentric man who helped spearhead the building of Edith Cavell school, and was friends with much of the elite of Windsor and Detroit, including Horace and John Dodge, the automotive tycoons.

As a matter of fact, John Dodge wanted to buy Paul Le Duc's home on the river. It was at the foot of Reedmere.

According to Fullerton, Dodge offered Le Duc a blank cheque, properly signed with his name, and asked him to fill in "whatever amount he desired."

Le Duc refused. He told his wealthy Detroit friend there wasn't "enough money (in this world) to buy this place."

As Fullerton explains, "This was said, not in a spirit of bravado or of belittling the millionaire's fortune, but merely pointing out he so loved the home of his ancestors ... every solid and well-seasoned board that had gone into its construction."

A grisly story in this book is one from 1958 where Theodore Mowry, a laid-off Ford worker, estranged from his wife, murdered his in-laws and his nephew.

The day before, Mowry had gone to a lawyer and drawn up a will, making sure his house and property, now inhabited by his wife and her parents, would be left to his wife, or in the event of her death, his children.

The morning of Dec. 9, 1958, Mowry shoved his way into that house with a 30-30 deer hunting rifle. His nephew tried to block his entrance, but was blasted in the stomach.

When Mowry's in-laws approached, he shot them too. He then went out to the shed, as Fullerton writes, "took the rifle, placed the muzzle in his mouth, and pulled the trigger."

Mowry's nephew didn't survive either. He died a few weeks later.

As I combed through the book, checking out a myriad of photographs, I'm sure I'm in one showing dozens of cheering kids from the Riverside minor baseball league. I remember playing ball, and how it never cost anything. We got a T-shirt and a hat. The coach would drive up in a beat-up old Chev and flip open the trunk and start tossing the T-shirts to us.

Some of the vintage photographs hold another surprise. They show gangly Windsor developer Bill Docherty when he was a cop with Riverside police.

Fullerton is selling this book for $19.95 at Print Works, 382 Devonshire Rd. Call 519-253-5540.


© The Windsor Star 2008

Idyllic memories of 1950s Riverside

By Marty Gervais, The Windsor StarJuly 11, 2009
Garbage was collected at your back door and dumped in an open flatbed style truck at the curb and hauled away.

Sewers were flushed out regularly and tree roots cut out every couple of years.

People left their doors unlocked, and milk and bread were dropped off daily at the doorstep, and mail landed in your mailbox twice a day.

As a matter of fact, if you sent a letter first thing in the morning, it would be delivered in the afternoon.

It all sounds pretty ideal when you consider the present. But that's what it was like in Riverside in the 1950s and it's the picture you get from reading Our Town: Memories of Riverside, Ontario, 1921-1966, released by R.A. Publishing.

I lived through the 1950s in Riverside, just across from the former St. Thomas School on Prado Place. I agree with Cathy Kriz Prekupec, who writes in this book that it was "a sleepy safe haven where kids could roam freely on foot or bikes."

In those years, as Georgene Olender added, "Our family ate dinner at the same table, at the same time. We didn't call our friends on the phone. We went to their house and knocked on the door."

To this, Dean Kouvelas, in his contribution, correctly observed that during this era, "most families were pretty much reflections of each other. They all had the same income, dad worked while mom stayed at home and most families had 2.5 kids, about 3.5 years apart.... There was only one car (dad's), one television, and one radio (AM only). If it sounds like the 'Cleavers,' you've got the picture. Houses were never, or seldom locked .... Fences didn't exist, and dogs and kids were everywhere."

True enough.

We roamed the neighbourhoods, dragging baseball bats and hand-me-down baseball mitts, eager for a game at any available park, against any available ragtag bunch of kids. And we played till sundown and sometimes beyond. We played -- not for championships or anything else -- and never with team shirts and hats. We played for the sheer joy of the game itself. We didn't need an "organization" to set up a game. We did it ourselves. It cost us nothing. It cost us only time, and we had lots of it to eat up on a sunny afternoon.

During the winter, we turned the streets of Riverside into road hockey tournaments, constructing nets with two-by-four boards and potato sacks, and wore bulky oven mitts for gloves.

The home I lived in is still there. A few years ago when it went up for sale, and its owners held an open house, I stepped through the front door to relive those childhood years. Little had changed, except it seemed dramatically smaller than I recalled.

Now, as I read this new book, it's like entering that childhood all over again.

We had different values. We had a different way of looking at the world. This was the Cold War era, and when we scrambled up on the leather barber's chair at the Esquire shop on Wyandotte, the talk was about Ike and Khrushchev. And we marvelled at the Russian Sputnik. On Saturday afternoons, we raced down to the Centre Theatre to catch the latest John Wayne movie. On Sundays, we filed into church dressed in white shirts and bow ties.

There was a kind of order and discipline to that era.

And trust.

I remember new homes going up on open lots in our neighbourhood, and how tradesmen at the end of the day would put down their tools and leave them behind, and go home. Later, we scurried about these construction sites, scooping up their hammers and saws, and dragging away discarded lumber to build our tree houses, or forts, but always making sure the tools were put right back where we found them.

It's what we understood as "trust," and followed it rigidly. We didn't need to philosophize about it -- it was built into the way we thought, or behaved.

It certainly wasn't a perfect world by any means.

But it was ours. We learned lessons we've carried with us all our lives.

Was it a better time? That's hard to say. It was different.

Our children and our grandchildren will have something else to tell about their neighhourhood, their childhood, and might even claim theirs was better.

We can only hope that's what they'll say. Right?

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