newspaper snapshots: windsor, the second weekend of july 1921

Sometimes, while easing myself into a work session, I compose Twitter threads of things discovered while browsing through old newspapers. Sometimes these discoveries are made in the midst of research, sometimes through lazy browsing of online archives.

This weekend marks the first time in nearly a year I've spent time in my hometown, Amherstburg. Taking advantage of the beautiful weather the first two days I was down here meant wandering around town and the rest of Essex County. Today is not so lovely, so I've parked myself in my Mom's dining room, where, depending on the angle, I can stare out into the lush greenery of the south end of town along the Detroit River.

So, as an easing-into-work-you'll-see-in-a-few-months exercise, I decided to flip through the pages of the Border Cities Star from the second weekend of July a century ago. Instead of throwing this material onto Twitter, it seemed like a good excuse for a blog post where I could expand on some of the stories I stumbled upon. 

The Border Cities Star launched in 1918, after W.F. Herman purchased the Windsor Record. When the "Border Cities" of Windsor, Walkerville, Sandwich, and Ford City/East Windsor amalgamated in 1935, the paper changed its name to the Windsor Star, which continues today.

The paper's front page headline on July 8, 1921 accurately predicted the result of the Alberta provincial election 10 days later. The United Farmers of Alberta defeated the Liberals, who had governed since the province since it was formed in 1905. The UFA would remain in power until 1935, when they fell to another group of political newcomers, Social Credit.  

An editorial suggested that what was happening during the Alberta election campaign reflected a growing frustration with, and the possible demise of, traditional provincial party systems. At the time, Ontario had been governed since 1919 by the United Farmers of Ontario, who had benefitted from rural anger and internal divisions among the Conservatives and Liberals. In the long run, it turned out Alberta voters tended to stick with parties for a long time once they were elected (16 years of the Liberals, 14 of the UFA, 36 of Social Credit, 44 of the Progressive Conservatives), while Ontario's traditional party system reasserted itself by the end of the 1920s. 

Also mentioned on the front page was the marriage of screen vamp Theda Bara and director Charles Brabin. Bara had one of the goofier build-ups for a Hollywood star of the era - when she hit it big with A Fool There Was in 1915, Fox's PR department claimed she was the daughter of a Italian sculptor and a French actress who was born "in the shadow of the Sphinx" and whose name was an anagram for "arab death." In reality, she was Theodosia Burr Goodman, who grew up in Cincinnati as the middle-class daughter of a Jewish tailor and was named after the daughter of early American vice-president/Alexander Hamilton slayer Aaron Burr. By the time this story appeared, he career had faded. Remaining active as a Hollywood socialite, the Bara-Brabin union lasted until her death in 1955. Unfortunately, thanks to a fire in the Fox vaults in 1937, few of her films have survived, and her image primarily lingers through the amazing photos taken by the studio.

In local news, there was this notice of a deportation of a Chinese immigrant convicted of selling and being addicted to drugs. Any thoughts that Lee Sing Wai may have had of trying to return would have been dashed by the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923, which effectively banned Chinese from settling in Canada until its repeal in 1947.

There was this report on reckless driving in Windsor and the ensuing altercation. This story could easily be presented today, with fines adjusted for inflation.

A quick word from our sponsors...

You can still follow this route from Windsor to Kingsville today, though it is too bad some of the shorter connections are not marked by name. I'm guessing Gladstone Avenue and Ontario Street provide the way from Erie Street to Walker Road, while the jog north of Oldcastle may involve present-day Airport Road and Seventh Concession. The route southeast from Cottam would be present-day Division Road (Essex Road 29). Alas, no North Ridge Dairy Freez to stop at along the way in 1921. 

A few more stories about the Kingsville area. I'm assuming that "Linden Beach Road" is present-day Heritage Road (Essex Road 50). I can think of several roads that formerly ran alongside it by the lake that no longer exist or have been shortened due to erosion. 

A question from the back page ad for Smith's department store, which remained a staple of Windsor's shopping scene through the 1970s.

July 9's front page is fairly routine, apart from this wire story about French serial killer Henri Landru. He wouldn't receive fan mail for much longer, as he was executed in February 1922. The story later inspired Charlie Chaplin's 1947 movie Monsieur Verdoux.

This appears to be one of the numerous failed attempts to turn Peche Island into a tourist destination. In this case, we have a proposal to turn the small island in the Detroit River into a Canadian version of Detroit's Belle Isle. Perhaps the alleged curse placed on the island came into play, and this idea joined the scrap heap of dreams that were never realized. Currently it is used a municipal park that is only accessible by water.

Given the zealousness with which the Lord's Day Alliance tried to outlaw nearly every public activity that could be performed on Sunday, it's not shocking that a rumour like this one about going to the beach would have spread. 

This Maclean's article from 1955 gives a nice sampling of how idiotic some of the charges that were laid (and the creative workarounds to avoid them) due to Sunday laws stemming from the group's influence. 

And now, a public service announcement..,

Ending this post with story that is interesting in light of recent developments in Toronto surrounding tent cities, the general view toward sleeping in public parks at any time of the year, and climate change turning cities into heat islands. Filing this one under potential future story ideas...


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