An early postcard view of Dieppe Park in its very early days. The Detroit Skyline looks odd without the towering presence of the RenCen, which wasn’t built until 1977.
From the Deparment of Parks & Recreation’s History of Windsor Parks:
Commonly known as: Dieppe, Dieppe Gardens
Former/other names: Civic Centre Park, Gateway Park, Riverside Park, Waterfront Park
Location: north side of Riverside Drive West, just below Ouellette Avenue
Property acquired: 1959
Official designation: City-Wide / Regional park
Just one visit to Dieppe Gardens is usually enough to convince area tourists that Windsor is The City of Roses. The history of the site, however, is perhaps even more colourful than the brilliant annuals that flourish there each spring.
The first major debate over the development of Windsor’s waterfront occurred in 1854, the same year that the Great Western Railway became firmly established in the Village. Although the Railway quickly acquired a great deal of waterfront property, James Dougall, who owned the Dieppe site, flatly refused to entertain offers for his valuable property. The local government of the day was eager to cultivate a harmonious relationship with the Railway, and thus began pressuring Dougall to relinquish the site. At one crucial point, the government seriously considered seizing Dougall’s property and turning it over to the Great Western Railway. By that time, the issue had grown into one of symbolic importance to the general public, most of whom vehemently supported Dougall’s fundamental right to retain his property. Realizing that a rankled public will often vent
its anger at the ballot box, the Village government quickly backed away from the issue.
In the years that followed, the property was used as a docking site by the Detroit-Windsor Ferry Company, and several cottages, retail stores, hotels and other businesses were established. In the late-1950s, these buildings were purchased and demolished by the City so that the site could be developed into a major riverfront park. In 1975, the city purchased the British American Hotel for $500,000, the last obstacle to the expansion of Dieppe Gardens. Reserving a portion of the wall and commemorating the site with a plaque recognized the buildingâ€™s rich history.
Press Norton, a prominent local hotel owner, inspired the initial development project. In 1957, Norton discussed the site’s development with Mayor Arthur Reaume and a local architect named Beckett was commissioned $10,000 to devise a proposal. The design featured such eccentricities as pools and polar bear dens.
When council considered the plan, some members took exception. Alderman Ernie Atkinson reportedly turned to William Gravett, Commissioner of Parks and Recreation (1954-1960), and asked if he could possibly develop a public park without polar bears. Gravett’s reply was affirmative and he was subsequently handed the project.
Although major work on the site continued until 1971, Dieppe Gardens was officially dedicated in 1959. The park is named after Dieppe, France, where the Essex Scottish Regiment of Windsor, along with other units of the 2nd Canadian Division, made an assault landing on August 19, 1942. The 5000-man, which included British and American armed service personnel, suffered casualties of 3363 soldiers through killed, wounded, and prisoners of war. This park has been named in honour of all the men who served in this engagement, and to the memory of men from this area who served in Canadaâ€™s armed forces in World War II.
For the most part, scholarly opinion is united in the belief that the 1942 attack at Dieppe was instrumental in the Allied Forces’ ultimate victory. In his book Dieppe, Canadian writer Pierre Burton pays high tribute to the role played by the Essex Scottish Regiment. A Silver Cross monument was placed at Dieppe Gardens by mothers whose sons were killed in the Second World
Dieppe Gardens is home to many other historically significant monuments. In 1967, the Ontario State Board of the Knights of Columbus presented the City with a Centennial year gift, a 50-ton, three-column granite statue designed by Donald Ailles and produced by the Smith Monument Company of Toronto. The statue consists of three modernistic columns, which represent the three persons of the Trinity as they look down on a troubled, war-torn world. The inscription reads “Pray for Peace”.
Dieppe Gardens has been coming alive every summer for over 30 years when the International Freedom Festival, in June and July, beckons Americans and Canadians alike to celebrate the freedom each country enjoys. The Freedom Festival fireworks display is one of the most spectacular visual salutes in North America and is viewed by thousands of people gathered at Dieppe Gardens. It is estimated that 600,000 – 800,000 people attend this single event each year. Dieppe Gardens is also a part of the “Parks Watch” programme. This programme protects parks against crime and vandalism.
Dieppe Gardens is a popular lunch-hour spot for downtown merchants and shoppers, many of whom enjoy the view of the Detroit skyline from the open-air observation deck, located on the second floor of the Cleary Guest House. Built in 1957, financing for the two-story building was willed to the City by the late A.E. Cleary, who bequeathed $20,000 for the project. The Cleary Guest House is about to be removed and replaced with a new concession at the corner of Riverside Drive and Ouellette.
During the summer months, when the park’s magnificent floral display is in full bloom, American tour buses frequently roll into Dieppe Gardens. An upcoming addition to Dieppe Gardens is a memorial to honour Windsor and Detroit Fire Fighters who have lost their lives in the line of duty. The memorial is constructed of bricks from buildings destroyed by fire.