Windsor's 1918 streetcar to be showcased in riverfront glass gallery

Monday, June 1, 2020

The Windsor Star/Anne Jarvis


Windsor’s restored 1918 streetcar, the last one left in the city and a symbol of the community’s transportation ingenuity, will be showcased in a glass gallery on the riverfront at Askin Avenue.

The proposed centrepiece of the planned Celestial Beacon, one of five destinations along the six-kilometre waterfront from Hiram Walker to the Ambassador Bridge, will be in a climate-controlled, 450-square-metre gallery featuring a green roof that will be built into the embankment to preserve the view of the water from Riverside Drive.

The names of the communities and the stops that the streetcars served — Sandwich, Walkerville, Ojibway, Ouellette, Ford, the ferry and more — will be written on the sides of the gallery. They came from the streetcar’s scroll, found embedded in the vehicle more than 80 years after it stopped running in 1939.

A building housing a concession stand, washrooms and bike rentals will be attached to the gallery. There will be an observation deck — accessible from the trail along Riverside Drive — on top of the building. A 1,200-square-metre covered patio with chairs and tables, accessible from the riverfront trail, will face the water.

“This will be the best view where you can go to have a water or a wine,” Mayor Drew Dilkens said Friday.

The site will also include bike parking and an electric vehicle plug-in station.

The city unveiled a video and photos of the renderings by local architects Architecttura Inc. on Friday and launched an online survey on the city website, open until June 10, to find out what people think of the design.

“It will be remarkable,” Dilkens said. “It will be a place many people want to go.

“Such spaces become a source of pride for a community,” he said. “They become a gathering space, and the more unique you make them, the more they draw people to explore.

“I love public art, and I love place-making,” the mayor said.

Places like the Celestial Beacon “not only tell part of the community’s story but … pull people in, making them stop and appreciate the world around them. We are given the opportunity to reflect on who we have been and where we have come from and helping us to celebrate where we are now.”

The streetcar is one of only three of the original 220 still left. The other two are in museums elsewhere.

“So this really is Windsor’s last opportunity to showcase its electric railway history,” Dilkens said, “which clearly connects with us being the automotive capital of Canada.”

The public will be allowed to get on the streetcar, walk through it and sit in it, but access will be controlled.

The restoration, which has been described as stunning, cost $750,000, and parts were difficult to find.

“We do not want to risk the damage that we know can happen,” the mayor said.

Dilkens urged people to complete the survey, saying the city wants to hear from the community and is willing to consider tweaking the design.

The project will go to council June 15 for final approval. If it’s approved, a more detailed design will be completed by the end of the year, followed by a tender in the winter, when construction slows and prices are lower. Construction could begin next spring.

The streetcar is currently in storage.

Council budgeted $400,000 for preliminary work for design and site planning and another $2 million was set aside for construction.

Dilkens wouldn’t say how much the project will cost.

“We’re going to wait,” he said.

The price will be in the report that goes to council June 15. If the public wants to change the design, that could change the cost, he said. The city is also applying for a $3-million grant from Heritage Canada.

The existing washrooms at that end of the riverfront path need replacing anyway, he said, which would cost $600,000 to $700,000.