The town of Walkerville was incorporated in 1890, and was originally a “model town” conceived by Hiram Walker, famous distiller, business man and visionary. Hiram was one of the first distillers to sell his whiskey in branded barrels, and his Walker’s Club Whisky was renowned for its singular quality and purity. It was at the insistence of his U.S. competitors that he was first forced to add the word “Canadian” to his label, a move that stands to this day as the iconic Canadian Club®.
By 1895, Walkerville was a bustling town of more than 600, and Hiram was determined to fight off attempts by nearby Windsor to amalgamate his community. Walkerville was designed from the ground up as a model town, with treed boulevards, paved streets and beautiful homes. Many heritage homes and buildings remain today, including stately Willistead Manor, a living showcase to the architectural design genius of the famed Albert Kahn. Kahn was also involved in the design of the townhomes that Hiram Walker had constructed for his workers along Monmouth Road.
In August of 1904, a new era was born as Gordon Morton McGregor founded the Ford Motor Company of Canada, and Ford City grew up as a neighbour to the boomtown of Walkerville. The Walkerville Wagon Works became part of Ford Motor Company, Chrysler Canada followed quickly and this region took the first steps to becoming the automotive capital of the world.
Detroit was the first major U.S. city to enforce Prohibition in 1918, and a new cottage industry was born in Walkerville and Windsor. The Detroit River couldn’t have been a better smuggling highway – less than a mile across in some spots, and with hundreds of small coves – it’s been described as a “smugglers’ paradise.” Historians have estimated that up to 75% of all illegal liquor supplied to thirsty Americans passed through our waterways. The original rumrunners were mostly ordinary folk, running liquor across the border. But, gangsters soon took charge of this lucrative enterprise, and organized crime took over the “business.” The infamous Purple Gang, linked with Al Capone’s Chicago syndicate, was notorious across North America for their ruthless reputation, and by the late 1920’s they had control of the Detroit underworld. When Prohibition was finally repealed in 1933, Walkerville and Windsor resumed their peaceful, law-abiding ways.