My Border Life: Is South of Detroit Still In Canada?
Living in a border town it was easy to slip over the border. If I traveled south of Detroit could I still be in Canada?
To this day I have to turn myself around, in my head, so that I can see myself looking north to Detroit.
I automatically want to look south. But before I have even processed in what direction I am looking, I already know, because the sky looks so different, north from south.
I commuted to school in Detroit, for one year and the students I met could not believe I traveled “all the way from Canada”.
“Did I own a dog team to do this?” was always a playful reminder that Canada, was truly, NORTH. At least, that was the general consensus.
Going to school in Detroit opened up a whole new world for me.
But I was 17; everything was new!
Let’s Do Geography!
I began by explaining that I had to travel NORTH to get to Detroit, I showed them a map where a little spurt of Canada curved under the US borderline.
But they said the map was wrong.
No, this could not be. Funk And Wagnalls had issues and should be updated.
Come on, it’s just a teeny part of the whole of Canada. Say that you still like us!
I showed them the 49th parallel, our international border.
This was that imaginary line between our two countries, lined with border crossing patrols.
If you scroll down to the 42nd parallel, and follow that line west from where we are, it takes us to the northern border of California! That’s how far south we are!
“Atlas got that wrong too”. They said: “Everything needs updating”. I wept.
Big City Life:
They were such good sports to put up with my comments. I did not realize that I was among real BIG City-people!
These People were into art and theatre. The concerts downtown were always full…
And this was the home of Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, and Stevie Wonder, Roberta Flack… who am I kidding – the list is endless.
We had the greatest music of all time in our generation – and don’t forget Woodstock!
This was MOTOWN on our doorstep. Never did we imagine it would become world-famous. It was our era and we were so fortunate to have this influence on our music.
We grew up watching The Mickey Mouse Club after school and Captain Kangaroo on Saturday morning.
Then, we grew up and we watched American Bandstand every day after school because we had AMERICAN TV!
We loved it, and this was just a passive by-product of living there!
My mischievous self told my classmates that the airwaves were cut over the Detroit River and we were denied U.S. TV.
(I couldn’t help myself).
They saw through the “cutting the airwaves” thing I tried to pass off. It did leave us thinking though. How would we even know, anyway?
And Different Customs:
My school pal, Doris, asked me how different it was in Canada with the French influence.
I assured Doris that we were committed to equal language opportunities for all.
So, out of respect, we laughed in French sometimes.
You know: “Les haha”, “Les haha”.
Monty says, Always look on the bright side of life!
She took it so well, and by that, I mean that she laughed about it, and brought it up constantly. Doris took no prisoners.
Just Follow The Road!
The main road from the bridge that connected us, ran through our town. It reached the outskirts and beyond into the wilderness.
From there you could travel to remote destinations like Toronto, Ottawa, and the Airport.
wiki.com – southern Ontario
We were stopped on that connecting road many times, by people who needed directions. “How far to Montreal?” (Us): “Fifteen minutes up the road”… It was 550 miles away.
Can I compare what we did and those kids in Belize who will watch your dingy for a fee then untie it and let it float away?
We thought we were just so smart, and we were so cool!
Jolly Old England!
Before Canada changed to the metric system, 45 years ago, there was a sign on that road through our town. It read, “London 117 Miles”. (London, Ontario).
A Michigander stopped at our local gas station and remarked on the sign: he asked “Are we that close to England”?
All these years later, I reside on the Thames River, halfway to London, in Ontario.
What would people do if they saw the Thames River sign? Start looking for STRATFORD – and we have one of those, too!
This was our fault. How would someone know there was a London, a Thames River, and a Stratford in Canada?
I didn’t know this until my grade nine class went to a Shakespearean Festival in Stratford.
Maybe you don’t want to just wake up here in the middle of the night.
There is this thing about being from a sleepy town. We were hicks. At thirteen years old we went over the border often, to shop in the “Big D”.
On Woodward Ave, was the JL Hudson where we tried to run up the down escalator.
Do you think people knew we were from out of town? That we were from the frozen north?
It was July and the snow had melted so we thought we could remain incognito – they knew who we were!
And what about the stores? A town of 125,000, does not have big stores.
You don’t have choices.
In Detroit, they had malls! This was huge. We still did not have even one mall or even one expressway through the city. See? Small town.
As tweens, when we shopped, the trick was to get past Canadian customs without paying for duty on your clothes. Eventually, we became skilled at this. We all started somewhere and made all the same mistakes.
We wore everything in layers and sometimes forgot to take off the price tags.
They were kind, actually, and let us get away with most of it. But they weren’t fooled; they were professionals after all.
They KNEW we were wearing 2 sweaters and 2 pairs of pants in the summer heat.
This is a great feat considering the crippling humidity in high summer!
We bragged that we had outsmarted customs… So innocent.
One summer my older cousin visited me. She was 16 and we went to Detroit to shop.
We were going to another country! She was so impressed: shopping in Detroit.
I was SO gratified because I was the younger cousin.
Now I was becoming cool – for my age!
We would double-date and go over to Detroit for dinner and the nightlife. It was perfect for us because we enjoyed all the benefits of the Big City, without any downside.
From downtown Windsor, we drove through the tunnel, and in 20 minutes we were in Detroit. We came home after our night out and returned to our sleepy town, with no noise, no traffic… The payoff.
Baseball, Boblo, and Belle Isle
I couldn’t imagine Detroiters crossing our border to enjoy the nightlife or frequent new and exciting restaurants. We didn’t have any… except for one!
Lindsey’s brother, Ken always talked about the Tunnel Barbeque. Apparently a well-known barbeque rib restaurant – the best! Apparently.
But, if they crossed the border to see wide open spaces and quaint towns…
we had lots of those.
In Detroit, we attended baseball games at Tiger Stadium and car shows at Cobo Hall. And from THAT side you could clearly see Canada. “Hey, look at that, Canada!” “Is it the real Canada?” “Is that the whole country?”
Every summer we went to Boblo Island, on the Boblo Ferry. The Island was an amusement park and the boat ride was a nice experience in itself. You could enjoy a dinner dance in the evenings as the sun was going down.
Sadly the Boblo duo closed but we enjoyed it in its prime.
Today Boblo Island is a private community filled with big houses. There is a barge from the mainland near Leamington, which can whiz you across the river in just five minutes!
There is a brilliant tearoom there and some vineyards. All very bohemian.
Belle Isle down the river, was a wildlife sanctuary, with beautiful glasshouses and trees everywhere. We rented bicycles and spent hours exploring, eating, and sleeping on the grass.
There were baseball games in full swing and pavilions for gatherings and barbecues.
People picnicked on the sprawling lawns.
Along the shore, we could see Canada over there, and it was so close we noticed people walking along the riverside.
Two countries were so attached, and we took this for granted.
It was always this way. We did not see this for the privilege it was.
I constantly baited my mates and told them I experienced the same climate as they did.
Maybe just a little WARMER since I was further SOUTH…
Don’t judge me – they wanted to hear my stories.
I secretly admired the Americans because their knowledge about Canada was limited.
They had everything they needed in their own country; why did they need to know more about another land?
Narrow-minded to some, but I saw this as total confidence. They were number one and they knew it.
We would never experience the panache of a U.S. citizen. I loved the patriotism ingrained in their psyche – nothing came between them and the loyalty they had for their country.
Nothing anyone says about those days can minimize the fun we had.
We were teenagers; we enjoyed everything.
The Family Unit
I met so many nice people, diversified in their personalities, and individuals all.
I loved their family spirit, tight-knit, and the cousins grew up together.
What a privilege and it was the same way I was raised.
I recognized this as a continuing battle to keep the family unit alive in the days when it was starting to unravel.
I was struck by how many people there were EVERYWHERE.
People had to “fight traffic” and “park in the fire lane”.
This was unheard of in our little town.
Most destinations were about an hour’s drive. No matter how near or far there was so much to see!
The malls, the countryside, the restaurants, and legendary historical sites.
My friend, Lindsay took me to new places for lunch with her Mom Molly and sister Janice. We went everywhere!
Did I Mention Food?
This was a special era and many a weekend was spent at their house.
I always had time for my extended family.
Lindsay’s clan get-togethers were marvelous, with lots of children and big yards; lots of food and drink, some football games, croquet and there was a swimming pool.
Mom Molly made the most incredible meatloaf. When I make meatloaf I always want it to be just like hers… I hope she approves.
The kids were at the right time for education on the world stage, with an array of opportunities before them in America.
Their interests were so varied and way over my head.
I looked at our next-generation pool and was proud of our following. After the Vietnam War, our world was hopeful again.
Lindsey’s family demonstrated the patriotism of these people! They carried that feeling in their chest.
They can be proud of what they have achieved in their land.
We can be grateful that they shared with us so freely… So willingly.
Do you live in a border town or do you have a special relationship with another culture?
It would be our privilege if you would share your story with us.
You can leave a comment below and I will get back to you within 24 hours!
I would love to hear from you.