Journalism students set up shop in heart of Ford City

For the last few weeks Kate Du Toit has been following the story of a 12-year-old amateur fighter from the Border City Boxing Club. A second-year student in the university’s digital journalism program, Du Toit sees the pre-teen as something of a metaphor for the resilience that personifies the Ford City neighbourhood from which he comes.

Du Toit – who even travelled to Brampton recently to watch one the boy’s fights – is one of a group of students in Marty Gervais’ class who have set up camp in an art studio on Drouillard Road in the heart of the Ford City area. They meet once a week and are spending an entire semester there, gathering information to tell the Ford City story.

Up until 1935 when it amalgamated with Windsor, Ford City was its own entity, a municipality founded by the Ford Motor Company and anchored by an auto manufacturing plant that once employed as many as 14,000 people. It was a bustling, vibrant community and Drouillard Road was its main street. With the decline in the domestic auto industry however, the area has fallen on hard times, and Drouillard is now lined with vacant store fronts.

But much like that 12-year-old boxer, the area is fighting its way back and Gervais wants his students to tell people the story.

“A lot of people leave this community, but no one has ever told the story about the people who decided to stay here, or even those who have decided to move here,” explains Gervais, resident writing professional in the university’s English department and the City of Windsor’s poet laureate. “I wanted these students to use their journalistic skills to tell the whole story of Ford City.”

The students are interviewing area residents, business owners and community advocates, writing blogs about them, taking their photos and shooting video, which will eventually be compiled into a short documentary about the community. Brian Khan is one of the students working on that film.

“We wanted to know what the stereotypical presumptions of the area are,” he said. “Why have people left? Why have they stayed? We’re using what we’re learning in school to actually have a real impact on the community.”

Being physically present in the community has helped earned the trust and respect of their subjects, according to Ashley Quinton, who interviewed parishioners at the New Song Church on Drouillard Road.

“They were so accepting,” she said. “They were coming up to us and they couldn’t wait to tell us their story. I think they get the sense that we’re more invested in the place. The people in the community seem very excited about the fact that we’re here.”

Karlene Nielsen, community coordinator for the Ford City Neighbourhood Renewal project, is very interested in the project. She hopes the information gathered by the students will help form the basis of a major grant application she’s writing to the Ontario Arts Council that will help make the area a more vibrant, creative destination.

“I’m hearing some of their early ideas for stories and they sound really great,” she said.

Gervais will discuss the program when he appears today on Research Matters, a weekly talk show that focuses on the work of University of Windsor scholars and researchers and airs every Thursday at 4:30 p.m. on CJAM 99.1 FM.

Marty Gervais teaches his second-year digital journalism class in a studio on Drouillard Road.