Arts·I He(art) My City

An artist's guide to falling in love with Windsor: Riverside views and a restaurant in an old house

Windsor is a city with some peculiar claims to fame — but writer Casey Plett is discovering everything that makes it such a sweet and strange place.

Writer Casey Plett is discovering everything that makes Windsor such a sweet and strange place

(CBC Arts)

Everyone knows about the art scenes in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver — but what about Lethbridge, Sudbury or Victoria? In CBC Arts's new series "I He(art) My City," a local artist offers an insider's guide to the city they call home. Here, writer Casey Plett shows you her Windsor.

Windsor, Ontario — located on the traditional territory of the Three Fires Confederacy — is a city with some peculiar claims to fame for this country. It is the southernmost city in Canada; it looks north onto the United States; it is the city with the worst air quality; its most famous exports are cars and whiskey; and everyone here cheers for the Detroit Tigers. VICE ran an article a couple years ago with the headline "Windsor, Ontario Residents Tell Us Why It's Not The 'Worst Place on Earth'."

I've called Windsor home for two years now, an eager and willing transplant who came in search of actually-affordable housing and a more stable pace of life after spending my 20s in bigger cities. While I've barely begun to discover all the sweet and strange oddities of this city of a quarter million people, I know enough to show someone around for a weekend. So if you, dear artistic reader, were in town looking for a good time, here's where I'd take you.

Favourite place for a walk: Maiden Lane

The alley behind Ouellette Ave. south of Park St. W. (Casey Plett)

A stroll down this downtown back alley features swaths of murals from famed local street artist DENIAL, close to the pedestrian thoroughfare known as Maiden Lane. The Downtown Windsor BIA, as well as business owners of the building, came together to kick in the funding.

Favourite place to drink: Villains

Villains Beastro on Pelissier St. (Casey Plett)

From there, we'd go to Villains. To many a Windsor-ite, downtown bars are synonymous with puking 19 and 20 year old Americans, or perhaps clubs that seem solely for the skinny and the straight. But like plenty of God-fearing transsexuals, I like to drink around tall buildings, and my standby is always Villains Beastro — which seems like a corny name until you get inside and discover the walls are covered solely with prints of honest-to-God movie villains, from Darth Vader to Leatherface to the old woman from The Goonies to, as above, Shooter McGavin from Happy Gilmore. Dark and cozy with good beer, there's always a spot to sit and the Sunday night karaoke is killer.

Favourite place to eat: Ukrainian Restaurant

Ukrainian Restaurant on Marion Ave. (Casey Plett)

But before beers, perhaps some food? Where to begin but with the Ukrainian restaurant, which is indeed called simply "Ukrainian Restaurant"? The food is utterly delicious and very affordably priced when you need your pierogi and cabbage roll fix. Further, it's in an old house on an otherwise residential street and has operated since 1931. Further still, it's run by a singular, seemingly indefatigable woman named Anna (CBC's own Jonathan Pinto wrote about her and the restaurant a few years back).

Favourite bookshops: Juniper Books and Biblioasis

Juniper Books on Ottawa St. (Casey Plett)
Biblioasis Bookstore on Wyandotte St. East. (Casey Plett)

Full disclosure: I work for the publishing arm of Biblioasis, but few would disagree these twin powerhouses of indie bookshops, located scant blocks away from each other in Walkerville, make Windsor a book lover's dream. The stores overlap by selling used and rare books but offer perfectly complementary experiences: the snug Biblioasis carries new books — one of only two independents in town to do so — and always has the recent titles I'm looking for whether it's hot or a sleeper, while the sprawling Juniper can suck up an afternoon with its used stock that spans an entire old house (what once was a kitchen is now the cookbook section, natch).

Favourite place to watch movies: The Capitol Theatre

The Capitol Theatre on University Ave. W. (Casey Plett)

A beautiful old theatre built in 1920 that continues to operate today, the Capitol Theatre houses the Windsor Symphony Orchestra. Other performances happen here as well, including the renowned Windsor International Film Festival (say WIFF to sounds like a local). A classic grand theatre whose original opening date was New Year's Eve, it was the largest single floor theatre in Canada at the time of construction with 1995 seats.

Favourite place to lose money but park for free: Caesars Windsor

The intersection of Ouellette Ave. and Chatham St., with Caesars Windsor on Riverside Dr just blocks away. (Casey Plett)

Usually just referred to as "the casino," Caesars is not only the tallest building in the city and A/C'd like a champ, but YOU CAN PARK FOR FREE. Right downtown! Sure, there are a bunch of pesky signs threatening "ticketing" and "towing" for those who are not there strictly speaking to use the casino's facilities but guess what, chumps: the other day I parked at Caesars, went in, immediately lost five bucks at a slot machine, then walked out into the refreshing 45 humidex for a downtown stroll and a coffee. Who's the sucker now, amirite?

Favourite place to people-watch: riverfront (Detroit River, north side)

The north side of the Detroit River at the end of Ouellette Ave. (Casey Plett)

Sporting a long ribbon of bike and pedestrian paths that stretches from the shadow of the Ambassador Bridge on the west to Walkerville in the east, the riverfront features a gorgeous view of the Detroit skyline and is always host to a panoply of peoples and activities: old men fishing the river, young guys hanging out in their cars, Pokemon Go fanatics, joggers and picnicking families all cross paths here. Event grounds across from the casino feature a variety of festivities from music concerts to Pride. And when dusk is falling on a pretty night, handsome men can find you moodily smoking and staring at the river, where they'll sweet-talk your bruised heart and without ado take you to their hotel room for blissful, meaningless sex, also overlooking the riverfront (OK, this only happened once, but it's a nice memory.)

Favourite place to crash: Bestway Motel

Room 22 at the Bestway Motel on Huron Church Rd. (Casey Plett)

Budget motels are always a gamble. On one hand, avoiding the chains that charge far too much for a bed and a stale muffin sounds nice; on the other hand, so does avoiding bugs and 1950s-thin walls. The Bestway Motel is everything a traditional motor inn should be: clean, quiet, simple and a few minutes' drive from everything. I stayed here all the time when visiting Windsor before I moved here and continue to recommend it to friends. At $65 a night, it's a throwback in all the right ways in the age of $125 Comfort Inns. Also, the murals. Yes, the above picture is from a Bestway room, and yes, every room is different.

Favourite place to be alone: industrial docks across from Zug Island (Detroit River, west side)

The dock of a factory on the west side of the Detroit River, somewhere in the wilds off Sandwich St. (Sybil Lamb)

Nestled on the west side of the Detroit River across from historic Olde Sandwich Towne is the charmingly apocalyptic Great Lakes Works (the round light in the picture is a fireball), one of nine operating integrated steel mills left in all of America. And it's right next to Windsor! So if you are being pursued by a T-1000, you're just a quick motorboat's ride away. In all seriousness, the view is kinda cool, it's paradoxically meditative to be out there and unlike the north side of the river, you'll always have the place to yourself. The air quality's not great on the West Side, and in addition, many say the Works are the cause of the infamous Windsor Hum. The Hum's often a subject of derision around here, but honestly, I find its white noise calm and soothing in an unexpected, otherworldly sort of way — kind of like Windsor itself.

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About the Author

Casey Plett's first collection of short stories, A Safe Girl to Love, won the Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Fiction in 2015. Raised in Winnipeg, she lives in Windsor, Ont.