History and Memory: Windsor’s St. Mary’s Academy Before the Tunnel
By Karen Kinzey
Many people have traveled between Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario by driving through the tunnel that links that international pair of cities. But not everyone knows the historical significance of the tunnel for Windsor Sisters and Associates.
Holy Names Sisters arrived in Windsor in October 1864 and opened the Select School for Girls in November. The Sisters had great hope for their new institution, St. Mary’s Academy. In 1867, a new school building was completed. In 1903, the Sisters enlarged it to include spacious dormitories and elegant parlors.
By 1920, Windsor’s fortunes and population were on the rise. The school’s location on busy Ouellette Avenue appealed to developers, who made repeated offers to buy the property.
The General Council refused but grew concerned over one section of the property the Diocese had leased to the congregation for 999 years. Mother Martin of the Ascension, Provincial Superior, met with Bishop Fallon to review the contract. To her surprise, he kept the document and stated “the property belonged without question to the Diocese.” He informed the congregation that it “should be prepared to pay a fair rental based on the actual value of the property.” Bishop Fallon urged the Sisters to find a new location for the academy.
In 1924, the Sisters learned Bishop Fallon had sought property for relocating St. Mary’s without consulting the congregation. Two years later, they learned of the proposed Detroit-Windsor Tunnel project, which required removal of the academy to make way for the Windsor terminus. Bishop Fallon knew of the plan for a full year before the Sisters.
The bishop made his position unequivocally clear: “I shall not permit the Catholic Church or the Diocese of London to be placed in a position of opposition to the legitimate interests of the people of Windsor.” He informed the company that wished to purchase the property that he would support it in any legal action that might ensue.
The congregation reluctantly agreed to the sale of the property. On July 19, 1929, the Sisters left their beloved academy.
“Our final departure! The last dinner was held with feelings hard to describe among those who have long been residents of the old convent! To the younger Sisters moving is an adventure holding pleasurable anticipation.” (St. Mary’s Academy Chronicles)
As the wrecking ball began to swing on Ouellette Avenue, workmen rushed to finish construction of a new academy in South Windsor. There the Sisters would devote themselves to the intellectual and spiritual development of the next generation of students.
On November 1, 1930 the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel was dedicated and opened to traffic.
Note: Karen Kinzey is Program Manager at the SNJM U.S.-Ontario Province Heritage Center.
Photo credit: Archives, SNJM U.S.-Ontario Province