Walkers Whistle: Memories
Blowing in the Wind
By Shelley Divinich Haggert
Born in Walkerville in 1912,
Bill Spears has fond memories of his childhood. Though his family
left town, moving to Riverside in 1922, Bill never really
left Walkerville. Working at Hiram Walkers Ltd. for nearly 40 years
may have had something to do with it.
revolved around Walkers whistle," recalls Bill. "When the
whistle blew in the morning, you knew it was time to start the day.
At noon, the whistle told you how long you had before it was time
to go back to school. No one needed to call their children in for
supper; the whistle did it for them. And at nine at night, youd
better be home when that whistle blew."
Bill attended St. Marys
Anglican Church as a child. He recalls the cards given to Sunday
school children each week, with Bible verses to memorize. Once a
youngster had memorized 50 weeks worth of cards, they were
rewarded with a ticket to Boblo Island, location of a popular amusement
park; most children were successful.
Bill attended King Edward School.
At the time there would have been five or six classrooms. He fondly
recalls Miss Love, his kindergarten teacher, placing his schoolwork
at the front of the room for all the parents to see on Parents
The birth of Bills younger
sister made him a star amongst his peers. When the time came, Bill
was sent to Mrs. Smales boarding house to call for the doctor
on the telephone. Bill placed the call himself; the first time hed
ever used a telephone. His classmates were more impressed with the
tale of the phone call than they were with the new baby.
Bill and his buddies would hang
around Walkerville Lumber after school, waiting for the foreman
to notice them. Eventually, the foreman would give them each a pile
of sticks, which they happily turned into kite frames, adding paper
donated by the butcher, and glue made by Bills mother. By
pooling their pocket change, they could purchase a roll of string,
and enjoy their efforts for hours.
According to Bill, the fence
around Willistead was erected after Mrs. Chandler Walker discovered
people engaging in "inappropriate activity" on the grounds. The
gates were locked every night at nine, and proved to be irresistible
to adventurous climbers. Scottish Masons were imported to build
the fence by the Walkers in 1914.
When his family moved to the
wilds of Riverside, Bill and his siblings hated it. Compared to
Walkerville, and their house on Monmouth Road, con-ditions were
No electricity, no toilet, no bathtub, all things they had taken
for granted in Walkerville.
Bill served in World War II,
right here in Windsor. He surmises that because he joined up in
Riverside, a bureaucrat somewhere probably assumed Riverside was
a great distance from Windsor.
Although he applied to go to
sea, it never came through, and Bill contributed to the war effort
by transporting troops between Windsor and Montreal or Halifax.
After the war, Bill, a boat-builder
by trade, applied for a vat-building job at Hiram Walker Ltd. He
convinced the boss to hire him by arguing that if he could keep
water out of a boat, he could probably keep whiskey in a barrel.
Bill was hired for the temporary job, and retired from Walkers
forty years later as a general foreman.
Bill saw many changes in his
four decades at Walkers. He worked on several construction
and renovation efforts. During one of these, Bill discovered a set
of Christmas cards once commissioned by Hiram himself, featuring
scenes of Walkerville. The cards now hang proudly in Bills
home, carefully mounted and framed.
Technology moved into Walkers.
Barrels were once raised by hand, using pulleys and block-and-tackle,
as electric engines created dangerous sparks.
Today, everything is automated.
Where 150 men once worked in the racks with Bill, there were six
when he retired in the early 1980s.
The face of Walkers employees
changed too. Initially, most employees were of English, Irish or
Scottish descent. Today, the workforce is much more culturally diverse.
Bill Spears still lives in Riverside
in a house he and his wife built after the war, which is filled
with examples of his woodworking a hobby he picked up after
What does he miss the most from his days at
Hiram Walker? "The drive along the river," asserts Bill, "gazing
at the water and all those boats."