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Jarvis: Getting paid to do this was a bonus


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I was driving north on Ouellette Avenue in 1990, heading to the Windsor Star for a job interview, when I saw the skyscrapers ahead and thought, this is a big city!

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It was the Detroit skyline, of course.

I was offered the job, so I hurried to a pay phone on Pitt Street to call my husband, Brian Cross.

“I really want this job,” I said.

He didn’t hesitate.

“Okay,” he said.

He gave up his job as city editor of the Cambridge Reporter to follow me to Windsor. Luckily for us, and I like to think luckily for the Star, he was soon hired, too.

In media circles, Windsor was known as a great news town, as in, a lot of stuff happens here. It has lived up to its reputation. For 32 years, first as a reporter, then as a columnist, I’ve written about almost everything. It wasn’t work. It was a privilege. Getting paid was a bonus.

Now, I’m taking a break, thanks to an early retirement provision in our contract. But for once, I’m at a loss for words. How to stuff everything that has moved me and remains with me about this city and its people into one last column?

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The first thing that struck me about Windsor is that it’s the biggest small town in Canada. Generations of the same families live on the same streets. Parents send their children to the same schools they went to. People who leave for other universities or jobs often return. This city inspires incomparable loyalty. That’s not considered in rankings of cities. But there’s a lot to be said for it.

Lori Newton from Bike Windsor Essex takes Windsor Star columnist Anne Jarvis for a bike ride on the recently opened Herb Gray Parkway trail in 2016.
Lori Newton from Bike Windsor Essex takes Windsor Star columnist Anne Jarvis for a bike ride on the recently opened Herb Gray Parkway trail in 2016. Photo by JASON KRYK /NEWS

Here’s another thing: we stand our ground. The Ontario government wanted a new truck route to the border on E. C. Row Expressway. It would have been quick and cheap, and we were supposed to gratefully accept it. But it would have wrecked the city. We said no and the Herb Gray Parkway opened in 2015, partially tunnelled with 17 kilometres of trails and 300 acres of green space, the biggest single highway investment in the province’s history.

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The provincial government also wanted us to stop providing thoracic surgery here in 2013, forcing our patients to travel to London for it, and Nav Canada wanted to close Windsor Airport’s air traffic control tower in 2020. We didn’t take either of those assaults lying down, either. We fought and won.

This job was an adventure every day. I’ve covered prime ministers and premiers, a scientific expedition to the Norwegian arctic and Windsor’s contingent at the Women’s March on Washington.

But often, those who inspired me most were ordinary people who enriched the community in all kinds of ways. Volunteers from the Riverside Minor Baseball Association gave Windsor an extraordinary gift, spearheading the special baseball diamond and playground for disabled children which will officially open in May.

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Windsor Star columnist Anne Jarvis goes for a run with outgoing Mayor Eddie Francis in October 2014.
Windsor Star columnist Anne Jarvis goes for a run with outgoing Mayor Eddie Francis in October 2014. Photo by Jason Kryk /The Windsor Star

The indefatigable Friends of Atkinson Park and Pool, mostly grandmothers, save the beleaguered west side pool every time the city tries to close it. They’ve also subsidized swimming lessons for low-income kids and built the playground and skateboard park with fundraising and government grants.

“It’s just tenacity,” member Jane Sparrow once told me.

Shirley Moor, a 60-year-old part-time receptionist at the WFCU Centre, won pay equity — after five court rulings and 17 years — for the city’s seasonal recreation staff, mostly women. She fought her union and her employer to get it.

“I didn’t want to be walked all over,” she said.

There are many stories that remain with me, like the tragic death of Matthew Mahoney. Smart, caring and funny, he struggled with schizophrenia for 20 years. His family never gave up on him. But he died in a hail of gunfire on a downtown street after a clash with police.

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The blockade of the Ambassador Bridge last week highlighted a lot of ugly division, but when I think of our response to the pandemic, I think of the extraordinary collaboration among virtually every major institution in the city and the contributions big and small, from companies that switched to producing hand sanitizer to people who delivered food to the elderly in isolation, from doctors and nurses who came out of retirement to help to all who answered the call by following public health measures to save lives.

Despite what sometimes seems like constant criticism, there are a lot of good things happening in Windsor. We’re planning a new hospital. Ojibway Shores will be saved, somehow, and Ojibway National Urban Park will be established. Our downtown and historic core neighbourhoods are coming back. The automotive capital is a leading contender in the industry’s new era, the production of electric vehicles and batteries.

We just have to keep fighting for those who aren’t sharing the hope for the future, for the rising number of people experiencing homelessness, mental illness and addictions.

We know how to build a better city. We know how to diversify the economy, how to invest in the community and its people to provide quality of life. It’s just a matter of will, of committing to move forward, every day.

ajarvis@postmedia.com

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