Matchette Road

If an American were to slide off the Ambassador Bridge, their first and very immediate impression of Canada would be a strip club. Studio 4's upfront box sign shows a tall and thin bikini model. The image is monochrome; except for the bikini, highlighting the breasts and pelvis in deep red. The club is located on the corner of Tecumseh and Huron Church Road; the third and most accessible intersection after crossing the border.1 On the far side of the street stands a gathering of big-box stores, fast food joints, and branded chain shops – behind which local businesses are present, yet hidden from immediate view. The fungal growth of commercial enterprise and consumer outlets remains consistent along Tecumseh Road, from Studio 4 through the entire width of Windsor. It pierces the neighbouring municipalities, fading only when the road dissipates into the countryside around an unmarked area known as Lighthouse Cove.

The starting location of Studio 4 suggests that Tecumseh Road and all its commercial value is the final momentous ejaculation of everything that came before it. Behind Studio 4 huddles a residential district, from which Tecumseh Road sprouts at the intersection of Prince and Matchette Road, with Matchette being the main connector.2 The union between them is crooked, each road strung onto the other at obtuse, non-perpendicular angles.

Matchette Road is a forty five second drive away from the US-border crossing. It stretches from Windsor to the township of LaSalle, and it is unclear to what region the road really belongs. As of writing, Matchette does not have a Wikipedia page, though many of its surrounding roads all do: Malden Road, Sprucewood Avenue, EC Row Expressway, and Ojibway Parkway.3 Furthermore, even though Matchette is more than six times the size of a common suburban avenue, it does not have the distinction of being a county road like the others that surround it.

For commuters going in and out of Windsor, many of the city's inbound arteries (Huron Church, Walker Road, Dougall Avenue) tend to congest with traffic. Using a back road like Matchette offers a scenic long route that turns into a stress-saving shortcut during rush hour. However, the first thing drivers will notice when traversing Matchette is that Canadian public sphere radio channels will all give way to strong static and white noise. This is the case with CBC radio's local stations, even though the broadcast transmitter is no more than eight kilometres away in the city's core.4

Matchette Road acts as a division of realities, slicing between the ostensibly natural areas of Malden and Ojibway against the skyline of old Windsor City port, where most non-automotive industrial businesses were once located within the city limits.5 Locals pronounce Matchette as MATCH-ette, a little match. Those foreign to Windsor might confuse it for the word “machete,” ma-CHET-ey, a large knife, for the road does cut across the earth, its surroundings a festering wound to the city, an injury which the locals conspicuously ignore.

 

The first stretch of Matchette, connecting from Tecumseh, is a brief section of residential zoning. Driving through this end of the street is difficult and terse. The road is single-lane in both directions. Cramped properties gave families a lack of space if they owned multiple cars. The City had to permit parking along the inward curb of the road. Three cars must flow along two lanes. While the speed limit is 50 km/ph, all traffic slows to a crawl during this passing in order to avoid collisions. The usual clearance between cars is no more than 80 centimetres on both sides. Before transit buses and some pickup trucks can advance in either direction, they have to wait on the curb for a clean-shot through. It feels claustrophobic; even the houses have little breathing room between them.

Poverty on Matchette exists in subtle ways, unlike the district opposite Matchette and close to the “old” town of Windsor, where many houses are derelict. Some, with little upkeep, are rented cheaply to university students desperate for lodgings. Due to a political dispute between the Ambassador Company and city hall, entire streets of small houses are empty and boarded up, demolition forgotten, a blight on the landscape. But on Matchette, the road is mostly clean, save for some autumn litter in October. The properties are small, mostly geared towards low-income families. Common features of the bungalows are single-car driveways and few raised or second floors – basements permissible. Older houses in this area feature brick facades, while newer or renovated additions sport plastic and aluminium siding. It is not uncommon within Windsor for further construction on houses to be heavily restricted if the lot sizes are too small to allow much way for equipment.6 There is little these homes may do to mod themselves, to grow or begin anew. Matchette Road traps its occupants in position.

 

There are three points of interest directly on the neighbourhood's edge. A Children's Hospital stands on the outskirts, fronting a metropolitan hospital complex that reaches deeper into the district. It is enclosed by two public parks: Mic Mac Park and Malden Trails.

Mic Mac is one of the largest public parks in Windsor; second only to Jackson Park in value. It has a playground, four baseball diamonds, a tennis court, a swimming pool, and a large hydroslide structure open during the summer months. Malden Trails on the other hand, has no material attractions and mainly consists of hilly nature areas converted into hiking trails. In the winter months, Malden is the most popular place in Windsor for tobogganing and sledding. Both places feature trees, grass, and other natural foliage.

The existence of natural recreation close to low-income residential areas might seem charitable at first, but hidden behind the trees at Mic Mac is a large and ominous industrial complex. Smokestacks and tangled pipe punctuate the horizon, though the landscape looms upwards, as if to hide it.

Between the St. John McGivney Children's Centre and Mic Mac is where the road slowly morphs into another infrastructural form. The space clears on both sides, light gravel mounting the curb from Mic Mac to the EC Row Overpass. To the left, next to the hospital, is Malden Park. To the right, next to the playgrounds, is nothing. A hill of green grass, bright under sunlight, rises and obscures whatever sits behind it. The large lot of seemingly empty land is owned by a petroleum company known only as “BP.” The company was renowned in the 02010 news media for causing the Deepwater Horizon incident from systematic ignorance of safety protocols, inevitably leading to a 100-mile area of the Gulf of Mexico flooded with toxic crude oil. Paradoxically, BP was also a party involved in the creation of an environmental science curriculum which was taught at many public and charter schools throughout the United States.7

Leaving the road and ascending the tallest hill in Malden Park allows one to gain a better look at the area. Under the metallic sky, the BP land houses a large open-air pit covered by a slightly reflective canvas. One can observe it used to store either oil or a similar petroleum byproduct.8 The direct distance between the oil terminal and the Mic Mac playground is estimated to be no more than 250 meters. Only fence and overbrush separate them. The terminal's placement, as well as the industrial area and a nearby sewage treatment plant, dictates the cost and calibre of the nearby housing.9

However, this vantage point comes at a cost of its own. The entire Saint Lawrence lowlands is supposed to be flat: hills such as these in Malden Park are not naturally occurring phenomena. Anyone over the age of 50, who has lived in these areas for some portion of their lives, knows Malden Park by another name: Malden Dump. The entire parkland was once a landfill. Only a few meters of soil and compressed stone divide the fauna of the surface from seventy years worth of junk and scrap hidden in the earth. To most, this is considered an improvement. When it was an open landfill, the houses were still adjacent.

Windsor and the nearby Detroit area are the heart of the North American Industrial Revolution. It was within this crucible that manufacturing and labour law bloomed throughout the West.10 Yet now, natural space and wilderness are used as a mask to hide the reality of industry. On Matchette road, nature is just a tool for brand management. Safe and maintained natural space such as these two parks provide a fleeting sense of comfort to these populated areas of old Windsor. However, by some unjust hand, this space is not a departure from the hammered lines of city traffic and deafening assembly lines of Chrysler and Ford. What is given to the children of Malden Park is not the slow natural world of wind and birdsong, but a synthetic and inferior version thereof.

A true natural world exists just behind Malden Dump. To reach it, one must exit this world where play is for children, baseball and playgrounds, and where work is for grown men, factories and business.

 

Follow Matchette further away from Windsor and the nearby surroundings mesh into a thick forest. The first trees appear on the other side of the EC Row overpass.11 It is travelling through this gate when the radio interference reaches its peak.

This is the Ojibway nature reserve. Ojibway is made up of two distinct areas, the first, a natural growth forest. Within, some trails, picnic areas, an observatory, and a small river easily confused for a big ditch. The forest is open to the public. It is a common destination for elementary school field trips within the city, even though the kids are often strictly barred by their teachers from seeing the forest outside of limited observatory areas.

Adjacent to the small forest is a fairly sized burnt savannah. By some fluke, it is home to a large amount of prairie grass, hundreds of miles away from where it would grow naturally. To preserve the anomaly, it is fenced off with few points of entry. There is no greenwashing here to blank out any offensive information. This forest area is as close to real nature as western civilization will allow. While the forest is equally open to the public as any provincial park, it is less accessible than Malden or Mic Mac. Getting there would take thirty seconds by car, but a walk from the neighbourhood would entail thirty minutes.

Some houses of varied small-to-medium size have worked their way along this part of the road. The street offers more breathing room between each dwelling. The level of human comfort increases as Matchette advances. However, these defiant people have affinity to the nearby small neighbourhood. These houses are the ones who challenge Matchette, creeping further and further into the distance, as if grasping at something forbidden. Yet the more they leap forward, the larger the space between them grows. The overgrowth separates neighbour from neighbour, and communication between them ceases. The row of houses ends directly before the grassland reserve.

 

Once the forest ends, the land immediately opens up. A large – and final – industrial base can be seen on the skyline. The sun sets directly behind it. At night, the warehouses are draped in blue against a crimson sky, with one or two eternally burning red flares dancing from thin pipes on the roof. Between Matchette and this final horizon is Windsor Raceway, a racetrack for standard and thoroughbred horses. The raceway is operational during the evening and at night, with the 5/8 mile track lit by skylights several small buildings in height. The harness racers play for winnings of up to $10,000 per race. Spectators make bids on the winners to claim shares of a collective purse.

The raceway's viewhouse complex is divided into three distinct floors. The ground level is the entrance where most basic bids are made. While there was a recent addition to the ground floor – a large slot machine arcade – the main area is sparsely furnished, only stools and whiteboard tables facing a flat view of the racetrack. There are a few concession stands on this floor and a subterranean pit for serving liquor. The second floor resembles something similar to a baseball stadium, with many levels of raised park benches only slightly more comfortable than the first floor. Large bay windows observe an oblique view of the raceway. If you take the escalator up to the third floor, you will encounter a posh restaurant overlooking the best view of the racetrack. The establishment is carpeted and well-furnished, with full meals served to its guests.12 Patrons of the top floor are welcomed through the main entrance off Ojibway Parkway, as an attendant parks their car in the valet lot, while those coming in off of Matchette need to pass through the back, around the stables and over a large field.

 

The position of the raceway at first seems inconsequential – a racetrack is just a racetrack – but it gains a new context when one sees the remainder of Matchette Road: an uninterrupted flow of high-end houses. The further one travels, the larger the properties become. From Sprucewood onwards, (where Matchette is cleaved off from Windsor and enters into LaSalle,) there are two private golf clubs occupying a large amount of space. One of which requires at least $500 yearly to enter.

Under a more intense social order, the speed limit slows to a languid 30km/ph and the number of intersections with traffic lights increase with distance. Connection streets bear such names as “Laurier Drive” and “Golf View Lane.”

In this new world, play is for grown men, with racetracks, crafted gardens, and 18-hole golf courses. Work is for children, with intensive education, forced refinement, and high social expectations.

Matchette comes to an end just short of River Canard, extending well into the countryside. Nearby roads feature quaint roadside shops in the summer and autumn months: florist stalls and some farmer's markets selling vegetables, locally grown. The endpoint of Matchette itself faces a large seasonal crop field, where the real abundance lies.

 

As leaves photosynthesize carbon dioxide to oxygen, the process slowly clears the ether of smoke and gas. Ojibway acts as a force field. Its growth is a natural filter which purifies the earth of industrial corruption. It is the purified air that gives the outer region a high value. Due to wind patterns from the heavily polluted Ohio Rust Belt, cancer rates in all of Essex County are roughly 5% higher than most of Ontario.13 The risk of sickness will likely increase the closer one lives to an industrial park. The hospital at the genesis of Matchette is the immune system against the colossal needles that violently stab cloudy venom into the skyline. The advanced end of Matchette needs no clinic, controlling, as it does, the majority of the road. It holds the minds who create industry, who dictate industry, who profit from industry, and the same who flee from industry. Vast wilderness quarantines the ill from the healthy.

Yet one cannot escape. The raceway exists on the end of the natural boundary as the gate through which all must pass in order to cross the two worlds of Matchette Road. A horse racer who frequented Windsor Raceway was profiled in a 01999 issue of The Canadian Sportsman. He was an A-Class license harness driver and horse breeder. In the article's final words, he mused about buying some higher-priced horses and some hired hands to care for them. He added with conviction “if you follow your dreams, they eventually come true.” Dreaming is exactly what the raceway was built for, as many place their bids and gather at the track gates in the cold of night; shouting with urgency at mere animals, as their social masters observe from above. Masses funnel in, but only a random few walk out with more than they arrived. The more unlikely a selected horse wins, the higher the payouts become. For the less feverish, there are the slot machines; where they can watch their futures twist and coil before their eyes. The raceway is an agent of upward mobility: engineered social role – as sport.

But, as the drive passes Golf View and runs towards the final intersection, the long-straight road takes an acute turn. The suburbia begins to rest, the trees on either side of the road grow older and taller, as the size and state of the homes begin to fluctuate wildly from rundown cottage to posh manor. Towards death, Matchette itself grows tired of the previous charade it documents. Yet, before the tar reaches the end of the timeline where it will smooth to gravel and then to dust, the last building on the road is the Ecole Monseigneur Augustin Caron, a french-language elementary school surrounded by acres of cornfield. Like the St. John McGivney Children's Centre, the road ends in childhood, just as it begins. By this method, Matchette completes a cycle which sustains itself. Enslaved generations escape from industry to desolation, whereby free generations escape from desolation to industry. Matchette defines progress in both directions.

 

Matchette Road is a purely functional organ of the urban landscape. It is the sulphuric spark that inspires the cycles of the industrial world. It is the knife that gouges the earth for the export-based economy. It is where the surrealist hand of the marketplace pleasures the mind of the city. Yet, there is a cultural ambivalence towards Matchette. Everyone uses it, but no one acknowledges it. The road has no history, and only exists as a metaphor of those who traverse it.

  1. The second intersection of the three, still within eyeshot of Studio 4, feeds directly into a Catholic secondary school, uniformed.
  2. Some maps actually have Matchette shown in this region as two roads broken by a cul-de-sac behind a corner store and an irregularly-shaped greenspace called “Matchette Park.” It used to have a playground. It doesn't anymore.
  3. Time of documentation: October through December of 02010.
  4. Specific reference: CBC Radio 1, 1550 AM, a frequency since discontinued in late 02011.
  5. The rest are mostly found around the Walker Industrial Farm, which one may reach in about five minutes from Matchette if they take the EC Row Expressway east.
  6. This zoning issue has worked to the political favour of the municipal government, whereby the Ambassador Company's continual pushes to build a new Windsor-Detroit bridge have been stalled by the aforementioned blighted homes being illegal for demolition, allowing more demand for another bridge project to the control of the Ontario provincial government. Since then, more blighted areas began forming throughout the residential downtown.
  7. [http://www.democracynow.org/2010/9/10/why_is_oil_giant_bp_helping]
  8. Mostly propane.
  9. Also nearby are a set of forgers and ironworks. On a clear day, the plumes from those smokestacks in particular can be seen as far away as the town of Essex.
  10. Windsor itself is considered part of the Detroit area, sometimes referred to as “South Detroit,” if you use magnetic north as reference. As a border town, much of Windsor's history is sewn together with its American counterpart, including the first motor plants by the “Big Three” (Ford, Chrysler, General Motors) and the development of early unionization. Today, a long consequence of the riots of '67 and globalization sending industrial work to other countries with less market regulation and underdeveloped labour laws, Metro Detroit is largely abandoned and nearly in ruins. The city actually applied for bankruptcy in mid-02013, but if it means to actually ease its debt or merely wishes to sell off municipal assets to private interests under the guise of privatization is yet to be seen. Despite this, the greater Detroit area, like Ann Arbour and Pharmington Hills, are still highly active towns with a majority of middle-to-high-class suburbs.
  11. EC Row itself is named after Edgar Charles Row, the president of Chrysler Canada between 01951 and 01956, Ohio born.
  12. In the early days of the racetrack, this restaurant sported a fully gourmet menu. However, as time passed and the menu began to equalize the menu over all three floors of the racetrack due to higher maintenance costs over the entire structure. It was for this reason why the slot machine arcade was added.
  13. That specific statistic was borrowed from male-specific cancer rates in the following 02010 report. Readable on the second page. [http://www.wechealthunit.org/about-us/reports/Cancer%20Report%202010_Final.pdf]

Since writing this piece, a few interesting things have happened to the stretch of Matchette Road described here.

The first thing was that the houses connecting Malden Park and Ojibway Park have been demolished, such that a section of the EC Row could be expanded using a connection from highway 401. The idea here is connect this area to a new bridgeway project that can cross the Detroit river into the United States. However, if the bridge actually would be built is an open question, due to the Ambassador Company's ongoing obstructionism in order to maintain their monopoly on the only trade-viable border crossing in the region.

The second thing is that the Windsor Raceway is closed. Entirely. No less than two weeks after I had captured pictures of it, the Raceway announced that it could no longer sustain funding, and simply ceased to be. There were plenty of appeals to the arm of the Ontario government which runs all vice and gambling-related items in the province. The hope was to save it and continue to support the many of standardbred breeders and trainers in the region. However, the Ontario Lottery Commission wished to focus more on the city's casino, which shares a brand-name with other casinos throughout the United States. The Raceway remains as a massive complex of empty buildings, entrance and windows boarded up. There are plenty of rumours throughout LaSalle that the area might get bought up to build some big-box stores, but there is little truth to the rumour more than two years in.

I'll leave you to ponder the symbolism of these changes.

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