“More Than Just Buildings”

I was born in Windsor, Ontario and the odd time when I visited my old neighbourhood, I would use my advanced years in playful banter. “Those streets?” “Those houses?” “That was all bush when I was growing up.”                      

Well, age has a way of letting us know you can never walk the same path twice, and time does march on. During my late twenties and early thirties, there were three buildings in Windsor that not only had a huge influence on my life but also paved the road to my future; three thriving enterprises that were once there as big as life but have since disappeared into the dust of yesteryear.

Wonder Bakeries was where I began my very first paying job, earning 45 cents an hour. I was ambitious and learned most of the inside jobs, eventually earning $1.14 an hour and becoming the second highest paid employee. I applied for a delivery route and was given a horse and wagon servicing the west side of Windsor, the last horse and wagon route in the city. I graduated to vehicle delivering bread and cakes to a large country area earning the princely sum of $38.50 a week, enough money to get married, and in 1954 I did.

Al Siegel was a visionary looking to transform Windsor into a Las Vegas-type mecca. His first venture was to build Windsor Raceway, a beautiful standardbred tartan surfaced track that was successful from the very first day it opened on October 21, 1965. Bill Rowe was hired as General Manager; Bill was a true gentleman and horseman, and a man I was proud to call my friend. I worked at the raceway for over ten years, naming the clubhouse the Tartan Terrace and forming many cherished friends and memories.

Al Siegel then built Elmwood Casino, looking down the road to hopefully join with Windsor Raceway as the wagering capital of Canada. Government at that time was not in favour of “off track” betting so the Elmwood became one of Canada’s most famous top entertainment supper clubs with headliners Sammy Davis Jr., Jimmy Durante, Tom Jones and many more. I was a guest of Mr. Siegel and appreciated the best roast beef dinner I have ever had while enjoying the live stage production of “Fiddler On The Roof” starring Topol.

They are all gone. I was hired by Wonder Bakeries when bread was eight cents an unsliced loaf, today bread is twelve cents a slice. Horses and bread wagon home delivery? Was it really that long ago?

I went on to be General Manager of various race tracks but always had Windsor Raceway in my rear-view mirror. I was saddened by its slow but visible demise and it felt like an old friend had passed when the track was totally demolished by a horrendous fire.

Elmwood Casino was a success until the headline acts began demanding outlandish salaries for their performances, expenses the casino just could not afford. Today ironically enough, the building is now Brentwood Recovery Home helping those recovering from alcohol and drug misuse.

Three buildings, a lifetime of memories.

By Russ Sanders