On an unusually mild day in late December, Marty Gervais decided to escape the confines of his winter home and hit the streets to step back into the city’s past.
The impromptu stroll led him to the neighbourhood of Riverside, one of the five former towns that amalgamated to make up present-day Windsor.
“When you walk, the landscape stands still, and I really started to notice some of the historic buildings and wondered about them,” said the University of Windsor instructor, who lived in the neighbourhood until he was 12 years old.
As he looked out at the historic Abars restaurant at Riverside Drive East and Lauzon Road, on December 29, 2015, memories of his childhood flooded back of missing verandas or gables now gone.
“I thought, ‘wow, this is really extraordinary,’” Gervais said. “I noticed buildings that should have been there but were missing and so I thought it would be pretty interesting to walk through all five towns that make up Windsor.”
That winter walk inspired Gervais’ newest book, Five Days Walking Five Towns. In it, the celebrated author takes readers on a 17-kilometre journey past the now-demolished Abar’s restaurant in Riverside, down Wyandotte Street through Ford City, Walkerville, Windsor, and Sandwich — with many stops along the way.
The book has a map with addresses to allow readers to retrace Gervais’ steps past the historic sites.
“I used to call Windsor the parking lot capital of Canada, and it turns out that I wasn’t far off,” Gervais said, adding that Windsor has the second-most parking spots per 100,000 people in the country.
“Between 1986 and 2016, 43 buildings were demolished to make room for more parking lots. They even were going to tear down Willistead but fortunately, the Friends of Willistead formed, and they stopped that from happening.”
Walking around the University of Windsor campus, Gervais said he was reminded of a mishap by the renowned Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan.
“When McLuhan was in Windsor, he was so preoccupied with teaching that he didn’t place importance on certain details in his life. Like driving,” Gervais said. “So one day, his wife was trying to teach him how to drive when he backed over a cow and nearly killed it.”
Gervais said Five Days Walking Five Towns isn’t a history book, but a celebration of a city rich with story.
“I hope it gives people greater awareness and maybe a greater appreciation of the history in this city,” Gervais said. “I thought I knew a lot about this city, but I found out a whole lot more after these walks.”
Gervais will be discuss his book in a presentation sponsored by the Humanities Research Group on October 26. The event starts at 4 p.m. in the Katzman Lounge, Vanier Hall.
Five Days Walking Five Towns is available for purchase at the Campus Bookstore and Biblioasis at 1520 Wyandotte Street East.