RiverWest: Residents rebrand neighbourhood 'overshadowed' by University of Windsor

A group of residents who live around the University of Windsor are moving forward with plans to rebrand the area as RiverWest.

'We think we can be more than just a drive-by.'

RiverWest group member Jeffery Williams displays samples of light pole banners to rebrand the University area alongside a map showing where they'd go. (Jason Viau/CBC)

A neighbourhood without an identity of its own, one that feels "overshadowed" by the University of Windsor and its students, is quietly rebranding itself as RiverWest.

The name has been floating around for more than 10 years, but is just now gaining momentum. City council, with little fanfare, made it official Monday night, recognizing RiverWest as a hub on its planning documents.

"We want to show people that there's more to our area than just the university," said Jeffery Williams, one of the residents spearheading the initiative. "The university certainly plays a big part of it, but there's so much more going on that people overlook."

Area not 'student slums'

RiverWest is far more than "student slums" or "the scorned area of town," said Williams, who grew up in the area and still lives there. He boasts about the walkability of RiverWest, which features historic homes and tree-lined streets. Unique restaurants and corner grocers attract significant foot traffic.

We think we have a lot to offer and we think we can be more than just a drive-by.- Jeffery Williams, RiverWest Group

The area's new, unofficial boundary is between downtown Windsor and Sandwich Towne. It's bordered by Huron Church Road to the west and Crawford Avenue to the east. College Avenue marks its southern border and the Detroit River its north.

Ford City, Walkerville, Sandwich Towne and Pillette Village all have formal recognition. The RiverWest Group says the university neighbourhood has been a nameless blip on the map for far too long.

"We want to draw attention to the greatness that is our area," said Williams. "We think we have a lot to offer and we think we can be more than just a drive-by."

Importance of neighbourhood identity 

Senior city planner Greg Atkinson says neighbourhood identity is important for community participation. (Jason Viau/CBC)

So, what's in a name? From a planning perspective, the city says branding is important. Within city documents it has been known as the University Planning District, "overshadowed" by the institution.

Easily identifying the area is good for real estate and good for business, said senior city planner Greg Atkinson.

"It's also good for community participation. These groups usually get together and talk about the issues in their neighbourhood and bring issues to the table proactively, instead of waiting until there's an issue," said Atkinson.

Re-branding to cost $10,000

With hopes of rebranding, the RiverWest Group plans to install light post banners, similar to what the University of Windsor has done. (Jason Viau/CBC)

The RiverWest Group plans to spend close to $10,000 rebranding the area. Most of that comes from community donations and fundraising. One of the most visible changes in identity will be street light banners — 50 of them with 25 different designs capturing the essence of the area.

It certainly lacks a BIA, lacks funding and lacks attention from the city.- Caleb  Farrugia , co-owner Green Bean Cafe

Caleb Farrugia runs the Green Been Cafe in the heart of RiverWest. He says the rebranding should help area businesses, like his, that have traditionally relied on students. 

Co-owner of Green Bean Cafe Caleb Farrugia supports rebranding the neighbourhood as RiverWest. (Jason Viau/CBC)

"It certainly lacks a BIA, lacks funding and lacks attention from the city," said Farrugia. "I think a lot can be done to attract people to this area."

Erin McAllister with the University Community Church agrees. Her family is relatively new to Windsor. She supports the initiative to make outsiders aware of the positive things in her neighbourhood.

"It really does feel like when you're talking about this area, you're almost always mentioning the university. There are a lot of people and a lot of other things that go on in this area," said McAllister, who believes a broader name will serve many benefits.

The newly-named RiverWest neighbourhood is also in line to benefit from a streetscaping project. Roughly $5 million has been set aside for work on University Avenue West between Huron Church Road and McDougall Street.

The city says the project is currently in the proposal stage. That will be followed by public consultation and the overall planning stage is expected to take 12 months.


Jason Viau is a video journalist, TV host and radio newsreader at CBC Windsor. He was born in North Bay, but has lived in Windsor for most of his life. Since graduating from St. Clair College, he's worked in print, TV and radio. Email him at