On the bank of the Detroit River, minutes away from the Canadian-American border, lies Windsor, Ontario. Incorporated as a city in 1892, Windsor is a lively hub of culture, food, and attractions in Southwestern Ontario. It is perfect as a vacation destination or as a place to settle down. With a beautiful waterfront city to explore, this comprehensive guide will help you navigate all of the exciting features Windsor showcases.
Where is Windsor? What is Windsor’s population?
Windsor is the third-largest city in Southwestern Ontario after London and Kitchener with a population of 217,188 residents. The Windsor Metropolitan area spans into Essex County and is comprised of Windsor, Tecumseh, Amherstburg, LaSalle, and Lakeshore with a total population of 344,747 people. Outside of Essex County, Windsor is 82km away from Chatham-Kent, Ontario and 191km away from London, Ontario further East. However, its nearest big-city neighbour is actually in an entirely different country: the American automotive capital of Detroit, Michigan. On that note, Windsor is one of the southern-most cities in Canada, actually falling on the Southside of the Detroit River with Detroit as its sister on the North bank.
History of Windsor, Ontario
Known as “the ferry”, “Whiskeytown”, the “Automotive Capital of the British Empire”, and much more, there is a lot to unpack in the tapestry of Windsor’s history. This evolution and diversity gives the town a lot of heritage to celebrate as it nears the 127th anniversary of its incorporation as a city.
Historically, Windsor was once only a portion of the size it is today. The area was first settled by First Nations peoples, then the French in the early 1700s, then English Loyalists later in the same century. The early town went by “the ferry” and “Richmond” before finally settling on the name Windsor in 1836. Even then, Windsor had a lot of growing ahead of it.
Windsor’s size today is due, in part, to a series of border expansions and annexations of land from nearby townships. The current city of Windsor includes the original Windsor, East Windsor, Ojibway, Riverside, Sandwich, and Walkerville. Many of those areas were built up as company towns and as a result, they bear those company names. Much of Windsor’s history is intertwined with industrial legacy, so part of the city’s heritage tourism is walking tours through the historical Sandwich, Walkerville - of Canadian Club Whiskey fame, “Ford City” - then renamed to East Windsor, and Ojibway areas.
Of course, because of their proximity, Windsor and Detroit’s history has been shared at times. Both Windsor and Detroit made history in 1930 when American President Herbert Hoover declared the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel open. The tunnel is an engineering marvel, being the only underwater border crossing designed for motor vehicle traffic in the world. It is a two-lane, nearly mile-long tunnel that runs under the Detroit River and connects Canada and the United States. The tunnel was finished in 1930 after over two years of construction and currently sees about 12,000 vehicles pass through it on a daily basis.
Real Estate Climate In Windsor
In 2019, the average price for a home for sale in Windsor Ontario is currently around $320,000. Within that number is range from under $100,000 to multi-million dollar homes. The current average price is up about 8% from the 2018 prices. This is continuing a trend of rising house prices and a hot market for selling in Windsor.
Windsor is home to many new and historic neighbourhoods. Here are some of the larger ones in the city:
Downtown Windsor: Also known as the City Centre, Downtown Windsor is bordered by the Detroit River to the North. It is home to a lot of Windsor’s commercial area and cultural communities.
Riverside: The East end of Windsor has many neighbourhoods in and around it, but the biggest is Riverside. Like much of Windsor today, Riverside was an independent town, added to Windsor in 1966. As the name implies, the homes in this area are close to the Detroit River, making it a popular area in the city. Continuing East, Riverside East is even more desirable, featuring newer houses and current development.
Forest Glade: In the East of Windsor, Forest Glade is a planned community that borders with Tecumseh, Ontario. It features developments built throughout the 60s, 70s, and 80s, as well as trail access, numerous public parks, a great community centre, a library branch, and several school options in both the Public and Catholic boards.
Walkerville and South Walkerville: Walkerville sets itself apart by its collection of trendy restaurants and entertainment. Most of the best food in the city can be found in Walkerville. Attractions in Walkerville include the Olde Walkerville Theatre, Willistead park, and numerous yearly festivals. Further away from the river is South Walkerville, an old residential area that is home to one of the branches of the Windsor Regional Hospital.
West Windsor: West Windsor is largely rural and Industrial. The Ojibway area, found here, is home to the massive park and natural conservation area. Some exceptions are the Bridgeview area, which encompasses the University of Windsor and surrounding area, and Sandwich, a former separate town that has since become a part of Windsor.
South Windsor: The South end of Windsor is moving more into suburban developments and rural areas. The Windsor International Airport is in the South part of town, next to the Devonshire Heights development. Devonshire Heights began in the 1970s, but has some newer housing as well. It is nearby to a nice collection of retail stores and restaurants as well as the Devonshire Mall, which contains a movie theatre. More South-East is Fontainbleu, another nice division with homes from the 50s and 60s and good access to shopping.
Services in Windsor
The services that a city offers its residents are some of the most important factors in making the decision to move. Where is the nearest hospital? How is the public transportation? What about school boundaries? Thankfully, Windsor is a big enough city to have all of those questions covered.
Windsor currently has two hospitals. The first is Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare which is actually two different institutions that were joined together in 1994. The other hospital is the Windsor Regional Hospital. Out of the two, it is the only one to offer Emergency Room services. Windsor Regional Hospital has two campuses, the Met Campus on Lens Avenue and the Ouellette Campus on Ouellette Avenue, both of which have Emergency Room services.
Getting somewhere by car just isn’t always an option. When that happens, it’s a relief to know that the public transportation has got your back. Windsor has plenty of options for getting around, but let’s start by looking at Transit Windsor, the bus system. The buses operate 7 days a week across 14 routes. One of those routes even passes through the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel and crosses the border! The fare can be paid by cash, tickets, or by loading a smart pass and the fare includes a 2-hour transfer window. Transit Windsor has also implemented real-time vehicle tracking so that bus location information is easier to access on the go and more reliable overall.
As for more long-distance journeys, Windsor connects to the VIA Rail line and has its own airport, Windsor International Airport (YQG). While not a massive, airport, the Windsor airports offers flights with Air Canada, West Jet, Porter, Sunwing, and Air Transat.
Windsor is home to 4 distinct school boards, Greater Essex County District School Board, Windsor Essex Catholic District School Board, Conseil Scolaire Catholique Providence (Catholic French Board), and The Conseil Scolaire Viamonde (Public French Board). This variety lets parents choose the specialization that is best for their children or an area that is in a convenient school district.
Windsor also has its own Post-Secondary option. The University of Windsor was founded in 1857 under the name Assumption College, an affiliate of the University of Western Ontario. Over a century later in 1963, the University of Windsor would officially become its own public institution. Now, the University of Windsor proudly boasts over 130,000 alumni, 190 undergraduate programs, and 17 varsity athletic teams: Go Lancers!
Windsor, Ontario: Look for an app!
Does Windsor have a bus app, Uber, or a food delivery app? No matter the service in question, bigger cities are better for the little technological conveniences that they offer.
Starting off with the most traditional, an online bus service. Since Transit Windsor has real-time vehicle tracking implemented, it becomes easy for app developers to use that information to create an app that shows bus arrival and departure times. Alternatively, the bus information can also be accessed from Google Maps departure board feature. Transit Windsor offers a call-in service as well as a web service to access the real-time vehicle location if an app doesn’t suit your needs.
Ever since a series of council meetings back in 2017, Uber - the app-based rideshare service - has been allowed to legally operate in Windsor. However, the council’s ruling did come with some restrictions for the peace of mind of passengers. In order to legally drive for Uber in Windsor, prospective drivers must pass a Vulnerable Sectors police record check and they must be driving a vehicle that is no more than 10 years old. Uber is a fantastic service that puts transportation at your fingertips and the pre-arranged fare doesn’t hurt either!
Skip the Dishes is another handy little app - and website - that allows you to order food from local restaurants that otherwise wouldn’t have delivery or pickup options. This app is a fantastic bonus in a city with so many amazing culinary choices. Lots of local favorites hook up with Skip the Dishes and more are joining over time. Right now, these are the highest rated restaurants in Windsor that work with Skip the Dishes:
1. The Carvery (9.9 / 10)
2. Dan Dan Asian Diner (9.7 / 10)
3. Hikari Japanese Restaurant (9.7 / 10)
4. The Sushi California (9.7 / 10)
5. Taka Japanese & Thai (9.6 / 10)
6. Wendy’s (9.6 / 10)
- Yes, even some fast food chains are available with Skip the Dishes, because they can always be faster.
Things to do In and Around Windsor
One attraction the whole family is sure to love is an afternoon at Windsor’s indoor water park, Adventure Bay. An admission will grant you access to a wave pool, water slides, lazy river, a splash zone park, and public swimming. The attractions range in age and height requirements, but there is something here for all ages to enjoy. Don’t worry if members of your group don’t want to get wet, the park has a cheaper “Land Lovers” admission fee just for them. The real splash? Adventure Bay offers discount admission tickets to residents of Windsor!
The Ojibway Nature Centre is a little bit outside of the city, but the journey is worth it for nature and animal lovers. The Centre manages 4 different Prairie complexes: Ojibway Park, Tallgrass Prairie Heritage Park, Black Oak Heritage Park, and Spring Garden Natural Area. This 604 acre area has more rare species than any other park in Ontario. The complex incredibly diverse, it has forest, savannah, and wetland habitats which are home to a range of birds, insects, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. Due to its conservation efforts, at-risk species like the endangered Eastern Fox Snake or the threatened Eastern Meadowlark, can still be seen at the complex. The park is open 7 days a week, 10am to 5pm with completely free admission and parking. All four seasons are packed with different activities for families, pre-school, youth, and adults.
Renovated in 2008, Caesars Windsor is a hotel, a casino, a restaurant, and a stage all in one. The Casino itself is definitely not for kids, however, the Colosseum at Caesars Windsor gets huge acts and concerts stopping in for shows. Many of those shows are friendly for all ages. Being a casino, Caesars Windsor has no shortage of fun for adults, including adult musical acts and comedy shows in the Colosseum as well. The restaurant, Neros Steakhouse, is an excellent stop if you are looking to make an upscale evening out of it.
Eat Out: 5 Best Restaurants in Windsor, Ontario
Windsor is such a diverse city that fantastic dining options are near endless. That being said, here are 5 that showcase the rich variety that is available and most popular with locals.
1. The Carvery
You might recognize this little sandwich shop from the Skip the Dishes rankings as well. The Carvery’s dominant popularity is for a good reason. Not only is the delivery service a huge boon, but the casual, yet hospitable dining atmosphere is a pleasant change of pace. They serve soups, salads, and a hefty list of roast-meat sandwiches like Rib-Eye Steak and BBQ Chipotle Pulled Pork.
2. Nico Taverna
Nico Taverna is the go-to place for classic Italian cuisine in Windsor. The friendly space is great for a romantic evening or a relaxed group dinner. Their menu includes pizza, flatbread, pasta, and other antipasti and secondi (first and second courses of a traditional Italian meal) featuring a breadth of fresh ingredients and delightful variety to choose from.
3. Mamo Burger Bar
The gourmet burger goes above and beyond the standard cheese, lettuce, and tomato to craft truly unique combinations between two buns. In Walkerville or nearby Tecumseh, Mamo Burger Bar is the place to get creative. Their menu is packed with options. Want Mac & Cheese on your burger? How about Peanut Butter and Jelly? No combination is off limits. In addition to their signature offerings, customers can still build their own burgers by choosing from their extensive list of toppings.
4. Carrots N’ Dates
A plant-based restaurant with two locations, one in Windsor and one in Tecumseh. Carrots N’ Dates specializes in creative alternatives to traditional dining. They make smoothies, sandwiches, salads, and bowls, all without any meat in the process. To create fusion favorites like Pad Thai and Bacon Burgers, this inventive restaurant uses tofu, coconut bacon, and lentil patties to entirely replace meat without giving up essential protein or flavour.
5. The Dragonfly Sushi Bar
Modeled after the casual, unwinding dining experience of a Japanese Izakaya, The Dragonfly Sushi Bar is a cozy 20-seater in Walkerville. They definitely serve beautifully-plated sushi and colourful cocktails, but what’s not advertised in the name is their love-letter to traditional Asian street food. On top of the diversity of rolls and sashimi, the menu also features dumplings, sliders, cucumber salads, and spicy poke bowls. The Chef is well-traveled and very personable as he prepares the dishes in plain sight.
Through the Tunnel - Across the Border
Thanks to the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel that runs under the river, Windsor, Ontario is only 3.5 km (that’s 20 minutes!) away from Detroit, Michigan. If you have a passport, then a day-trip to the States is closer and more accessible than you might think. So, here are some great single, group, and family attractions to enjoy across the border.
The Detroit Zoo
Located about 30 minutes away, the Detroit Zoo promises an educational tour of the animal kingdom fit for all ages. They offer dining, shops, rides, and of course animals from all over the world. They house, conserve, and care for 230 different species ranging from beautiful butterflies to an adorable family of red pandas. Admission prices (USD only) are cheaper online than at the gates, so make sure to plan your visit ahead of time.
Detroit Institute of Arts
Even closer than the zoo is the Detroit Institute of Art - or the DIA. This immense site doubles as an art gallery and museum. Their 65,000 strong artifact collection contains pieces from ancient civilizations across the world up to more modern American contributions. They house art from Europe, Asia, and Africa as well as North American Art. If you are expecting to see only old statues and paintings, then think again. Amongst the DIA’s 100+ galleries is a Performing Arts Collection with artifacts from years of global film and stage production.
Watch the Game:
Why watch the action on TV when you can be on the edge of your seat at any one of Detroit’s fine arenas. No matter the sport, Detroit has a team to root for and a space to watch them play. The 2017 Little Caesars Arena is the home of the Detroit Red Wings - of NHL Hockey fame - as well as the NBA team, the Detroit Pistons. Prefer outdoor games? No problem. Visit Ford Field to see the Detroit Lions during the NFL season or Comerica Park to see the Major League Baseball team the Detroit Tigers.
Festivals and Events, Summer Season Celebrations
Windsor is known for the food, drink, and entertainment scenes and there are plenty of opportunities to celebrate them throughout the year. The “Carrousel of Nations” festival kicks off the Summer season for a few weeks in June. True to its name, the Carrousel is a colourful celebration of multiculturalism in the Windsor-LaSalle-Leamington region. Villages are set up across the participating areas to highlight the culture and food of the world. In 2019, participants included African, Bavarian, Caribbean, Chinese, Filipino, German, Greek, Hungarian, Polish, Romanian, Scottish, Serbian, and Slovak Villages in Windsor alone.
Next up is July and Bluesfest, Windsor. Bluesfest is an award-winning music festival held across two weekends on the waterfront. Every year has specific programming, but the 2019 festival had a wicked lineup of 90s Throwback, Hot Rock Night, A Night for Amazing Blues, and a Celebration of Prince on the final night.
A little later in the year, Windsor celebrates two festivals for ages 19 and up: Whiskeytown and the Craft Beer Festival. In August, Windsor celebrates its heritage with the Whiskeytown Festival. Thanks to Hiram Walker and the American prohibition, Windsor became the birthplace of Canadian Club Whiskey. For $30, festival-goers get admission and 5 tokens to spend on food - and whiskey, of course. In October, Ontario craft brewers and local cuisine will come together to combat the colder weather with good eats and entertainment. The Craft Beer Festival will also honor Hiram Walker and his dabbling into beer in 1885.
One thing is for sure, Windsor is not much of a sleepy Ontario town. It is bustling with modern conveniences, heritage features, and attractions to be enjoyed by all ages. Not to mention, the great location on the Detroit River and all of its easily-accessible amenities both in Windsor and across the border. If this sounds like a city that ticks off the boxes of your wishlist, consider seeing what Windsor, Ontario has to offer for yourself.
Want to learn more about Windsor, Ontario view these related blog posts:
- The Top Neighbourhoods in Windsor, Ontario
- Moving to Windsor? The Ultimate Guide to Living in Windsor
- The Best Elementary Schools in Windsor, Ontario