A border city stripped of its neighbour: Here's what Windsorites are doing without Detroit

·6 min read

When the border finally opens, Priscilla Brough says she's going to cross into Detroit and hug the first American she sees.

"But the first American I'll see will be the border guard and I'm sure he won't appreciate it like, 'hey, remember me?'" she said with a laugh.

Brough has been taking the bus across the border by herself since she was a child to visit her dad, who lived in Michigan. Over the years, her relationship with Detroit has deepened and she has gone over seeking new thrills from the city's rich music scene to its telling street art.

"People all over the world come here for ... the jazz festival, they come here for the art, the experience of being in Detroit — it's its own thing," she said.

But for the first time in her 40 years of living in Windsor, Detroit is temporarily unavailable and has been for the last 10 months.

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On March 21, the border closed, as COVID-19 swept across Canada and the United States. And it's yet to reopen.

The time away from some of Brough's favourite places and people have been "awful." And for many other Windsorites, the Detroit River has never felt so big.

Submitted Priscilla Brough
Submitted Priscilla Brough

Most locals went from weekly visits to gazing at the looming buildings from afar. It wasn't just the food, shopping or the entertainment that was missed, but the people. Yet without their American counterpart, Windsorites said they rediscovered parts of their hometown and put more effort into supporting local Canadian businesses.

The last time Brough hopped across the border was on a weekend in early March of 2020.

Just like any other, she was headed over with a list of things to do: go to a concert, grocery shop, head to a bar with some friends and check out the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA).

She didn't end up going to the DIA, but figured she would just head there another day.

"That other day hasn't actually come yet, which is really, really sad. I love Detroit, I really do," said Brough, who would often visit the city several times a week.

Sanja Srdanov, is another Windsorite who went from crossing into Detroit once or twice a week to waving at it from across the river.

"It's bizarre and sad, it's just looming there and you can't go," she said.

As a visual arts and photography teacher in Windsor, Srdanov said Detroit's art and music scenes are also her favourite, along with the tacos in the city's Mexican town.

"But it did get me to get out in this community here," she said.

Srdanov said she spent quite a bit of time walking Windsor's Riverfront trail, Drouillard Road and the Walkerville and Riverside neighbourhoods. And she managed to satisfy her taco fix with ones out in the county at Birdie's Perch in Leamington.

Similarly, Meaghan Marton, who would go over to see friends, eat at vegan restaurants and volunteer at a Detroit animal shelter, said the restricted access only deepened her love for her hometown.

Submitted by Sanja Sardanov
Submitted by Sanja Sardanov

"I'm already a huge advocate and love everything local," she said.

"I have just kind of developed and cultivated more of my love for it ... but I think I'm really just putting more of my energy into what we have here."

As for Brough, she said despite how difficult its been, she too came to appreciate Windsor-Essex all the more from the Downtown Farmers' Market in the summer to discovering the street art in the city's core.

A loss of perspective

And while there was lots to gain by staying put in Windsor, there was one major loss: perspective.

In a year that saw a tense election that overturned Donald Trump's presidency, protests over the Black Lives Matter Movement and a struggle with a global pandemic, Windsorites said they missed out on getting to understand those challenges from America's point of view.

Brough said it's a lot easier to understand what others are going through when you can personally ask them.

"The big con is that we don't have as much exposure to other points of view as we may have once, cause it's one thing to see it on social media or one thing to see it on television on how the average person ... sees their world and ... how they perceive their situation," she said.

"The Black Lives Matter Protest, imagine how much different that would have been ... we're all seeing it on television, we're hearing stories, but we're not there to witness it."

There was more disconnect than usual, Marton added and that created more feelings of division in a year full of turmoil.

"It really does feel like we have this wall built up between Canada and the U.S.," she said.

"There's already so much division this year in so many different things, I think having that border closed in a way it symbolizes kind of like a closure between these two cities when for so many years, Windsor-Detroit has had such a huge connection and relationship among it's people that live there [and] businesses ... [The border] breaks down the barriers and our perception of what we think Detroit is or what we think America is and I really miss that."

Ready for Detroit reunion

All three Windsorites said they're eager to head over once it's safe to and hope that 2021 might be the year for that.

"I'm really excited to cross back over when the possibility is there and everybody believes that it's safe and there's no stigma behind crossing cause I think the unfortunate part about it too is once you start or decide to cross over there's still going to be people that might be like 'oh I can't believe you're going across," Marton said.

Submitted by Meaghan Marton
Submitted by Meaghan Marton

She said if it's possible to go over in a "healthy and safe" way, she's more than ready to get back to how life used to be.

As for Brough, the first person she'll actually hug is her friend Angela who lives in the U.S. When the day comes, she says it will be a moment of celebration.

"There will be dancing in the streets, I'm sure — probably by me, frankly," she said.

Brough's only concern is that the places she frequented may not be there when she returns due to the toll of the pandemic.

Earlier this week the border closure was extended until Feb. 21, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said the border likely won't reopen until the pandemic is globally under control.