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The View From The Rear View Mirror

by Chris Edwards (photos courtesy of Detroit News Archives)

Vernor’s Ginger Ale – many expatriates still crave unattainable Detroit food products, which are indelibly etched into their psyches.

Imagine how many events have been captured in newsprint in the last 125 years or so. Sadly many of these tales are buried in archives, inaccessible to the public, unless you enjoy sifting through microfiche – a useful technology for archivists but not for mass communication.

With the advent of the internet, it would seem that the perfect vehicle had been invented to distribute archival newspaper stories. Lucky for you, oh reader, that The Walkerville Times has expended much energy to bring you “the life and times of the Border Cities” online at walkervilletimes.com.

The same cannot be said for our friends at The Windsor Star (formerly The Border Cities Star before amalgamation in 1935) with its vast collection of stories and photos from our past. Unfortunately, these archives are not yet available online.

The Star could learn a thing or two by shifting their gaze across the river to The Detroit News. The Rearview Mirror is an ambitious internet project undertaken by a newspaper that obviously cherishes its heritage – and puts its money where its mouth is. The Rearview Mirror, “Yesterday’s News From Our Archives,” is an undertaking that is dazzling in scope and breadth.

Who amongst our readers has not felt the influence of our larger neighbour to the North? The Detroit River separates us, yet we have much in common – where else do two international cities share so much: the birth of the auto, the struggles of organized labour, Bob-Lo island, Hudson’s downtown store, TV commercials (You’re on the right track to Nine Mile and Mack), beautiful tall buildings that loom like a mountainous landscape from anywhere in our fair city, sports heroes, and more.

The first car winds its way through the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel in 1930.


The Rearview Mirror is very easy to navigate, and anyone with modest computer skills can easily find their way around – and much to appreciate. In fact, the biggest problem may be deciding how to spend one’s time – there are more than 200 articles and over 1,000 photos. This site will jog your memory and set the way-back machine as far back as you care to remember.

Detroit’s beautiful tall buildings loom like distant mountains throughout Windsor


Viewers will enjoy the 100+ photo galleries – these are simple to use, and feature a slide show metaphor. Much forethought went into the gallery’s design: they pop up in a new window, photos load fast and the window closes when you are done the “webisode.” Very nifty indeed. A great way to explore all the photo galleries is to click on the Index of Galleries button when viewing a slide show – you could lose a whole day looking at all the images.

The home page highlights some of the more popular stories, and includes seven main sections: Business and Industry, Government and Institutions, Life and Michigan, Locations, Notable Events, People, and Sports. As a tribute to Detroit’s 300th anniversary, the News also printed several special features in the paper last year – these are now housed in the Rearview Mirror, including Detroit and Its River, Detroit and Its Gangsters, and East Ferry: Avenue of Dreams. For the impatient, there are links at the bottom of most pages that lead you to an index of all the stories – a massive table of contents.

So let’s set the way-back machine, Sherman, and enter “Business and Industry.” A personal favourite stop is “Snack Foods and Pop, Detroit Style”– what a great place to start. Vernor’s Ginger Ale on Woodward, Faygo Root Beer, Better Made Potato Chips. I know many expatriates who still crave these unattainable products, as they are indelibly etched into their psyches. In “Detroiters and Their Beer”– let us remember when the great beers of yesteryear were quaffed, including those from the famed Stroh’s Brewery, certainly not the best local brew but definitely the most famous.

Railroad ferries long carried freight across the Detroit River between the Detroit and Windsor. Here the Huron of Sarnia is stuck fast in the ice facing Windsor in 1934.


Who can ever forget Hudson’s after visiting as a child at Christmas? Take a journey back there in “How J.L. Hudson Changed the Way We Shopped.” I wish I had a buck for every time I’ve heard someone mention the downtown Hudson store and its great Christmas traditions. Here’s some Hudson’s trivia from the site: “By 1953 the 49-acre store had 12,000 employees and was making 100,000 sales per day. It used as much electricity as the city of Ypsilanti. It had a legendary delivery force of 500 drivers and 300 trucks. It boasted five restaurants which made 14,000 meals per day. The Hudson’s Maurice salad delighted lunchers for many years, its recipe a closely guarded secret until the store bowed to thousands of requests and made it public.” Now that’s what I call trivia!

Tired of winter? You may want to check out “Life in Michigan,” where you can read about the worst snowstorms of our past. Fortunately, we have never come close to eclipsing the one day snowfall record set on April 6, 1886 of 24.5 inches!

 


 

 

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