Last spring I was back in hometown Windsor doing what one does in Windsor: drive around. I often will visit old routes and haunts, see what’s changed and what hasn’t, but this time I was tweeting-about-town, uploading pictures and making comments. I took the above picture at one end of the Chrysler Minivan plant and remarked that it was over a kilometer long. I was suddenly struck by it’s sheer size though I had driven by this place for years and didn’t think much of it: it was simply the normal scale of things in Windsor.
At shift change the empty street above would look like Union Station at rush hour with workers trying to cross over to the parking lots. Human critical mass. Once my 1985 Pontaic Sunbird had a flat along here and as I struggled to change the tire the gates opened and the flood of people surrounded me. No offers of help, just askance looks at my GM vehicle. Later when I drove an old beat up 1986 Honda Accord I knew if I broke down along here it would be best to abandon it as I had chosen the wrong car to drive. A common Windsor bumper sticker says “Out of work? Keep driving foreign.” In Windsor, the make of your car says a lot about your allegiances, or at least where you or one of your parents might work.
At some point I tweeted that if this plant landed on Toronto it would cover the financial district. I underestimated. Spacing friend Sean Galbraith saw that tweet and made up a series of maps that superimposed the footprint of some of Ontario’s bigger auto plants on Toronto. In Windsor I had nothing to relate the size of the Minivan plant to — and I always drove by it, further obscuring its vast size — so I was shocked that if located in Toronto it would fill nearly the entire space between Yonge and University, from Front to almost Bloor. As the auto industry winds down and plants close, the amount of space these buildings take up will seem even bigger. Here are a few more plants:
This final map shows a number of plants including the Ford Engine and GM Transmission. What follows are some pictures I took on various walk-drives around the two plants in the past year. What to do with all this space? First the Ford Engine plant:
My uncle worked here, 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, for a couple decades.
The Ford plant may not have the biggest footprint, but it was surrounded by acres of parking lot. What follows is the GM Transmission plant. It will close in the next year:
Finding some reuse as exhibition space. The plant strattled both sides of Walker Road (itself named after the Hiram Walkers Distillery, another large employer — I worked there in the bottling room in 1993 (think Lavern and Shirley opening credits) — that is slowly winding down.
GM Trim Plant
These photos are of the GM Trim Plant, or what was left of it in the spring (and not one of the plants Sean mapped). I caught it just as it was being torn down. Built in the mid-1960s, it produced the seats and interiors for GM vehicles. My mom worked here from 1984 until just a few years ago. For a long time she sewed seats for Cadillac Sevilles but in the last decade of the plant much of that work went to Mexico and GM sold off the plant and “light assembly” contracts were found until they too disappeared. There was nothing light about the toll even this kind of work took on the bodies of my mom and her friends — so many conversations about elbows and hands and carpel tunnel. Factories workers were and often are the walking wounded.
So much of Windsor’s psychological and physical space was given over to the auto plants and it’s unclear what will happen to the city when it disappears. The above photos show the physical space the plants hold while below are just some of the psychological and psychogeographic spaces carmaking takes up in my hometown. A full accounting of how connected the city is to this industry would take up an encyclopedia.
Detroit is always there, in the background.