Ever go driving north in the city and wonder why there are so many French sounding street names? Or have you ever stopped to consider why there are so many streets that run for what seem like kilometers on end north/south? Have you ever stopped to wonder why Windsor seems to be laid out in such a regimented grid whereas Detroit seems to simply sprawl out from the centre?
If any of these thoughts have crossed your mind, you might be a historian. Well that, or a Windsorite.
Those long roads which seem to stretch throughout the entire city are remnants of the seigniorial system of New France and it was the semi-feudal system of land distribution that was imposed on the North American colonies of New France.
Introduced in 1627, the seigniorial system arranged land in long narrow strips – called seigniories- along the banks of the St. Lawrence River – “The Highway of New France” – as the provided drinking water, and a means of transportation which aided settlers in their labour.
The seigneur – the landlord – would divide his narrow lots of land among tenants – habitants – who would clear the land, build houses and other buildings, and farm the remaining land.
The system was introduced to the area of Windsor following French settlement and as a result, the long narrow strips of land were eventually bought and sold, and resold and bought, and the only remaining vestiges of the seigniorial system were the long narrow roads dividing up the city, and the original names of the seigneurs who managed the lands: these are now the French road names which run North/South in the city.
Eventually the seigniorial system was abolished by the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada in June 1854 and the act called for the creation of a special Seigniorial Court which was comprised of all the justices of Lower Canada, who were presented with a series of questions concerning the various economic and property rights that abolition would change.
It was argued that the system was unjust, and as such, needed to end.
The seigniorial system is a part of Windsor history and it is something easily viewed from space. The next time someone stops and asks “Why is Detroit so sporadically arranged, whereas Windsor is in a grid?” you’ll be able to respond “because of the seigniorial system”.
Notable Windsor street names that serve as remnants of the seigniorial system:
- Drouillard Rd.
- Goyeau Ave
- Ouellette Ave
- Pelissier St.
Jonathon Liedtke is the Features & Opinion Editor for the University of Windsor Lance Campus/Community Newspaper and a reporter for ourWindsor.ca. As a founding member and current Co-Chair of the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Committee, he is committed to representing, connecting, engaging with and advocating for local youth. He is also a member of Windsor’s “Punk with Horns” band The Nefidovs, and as such, is committed to enhancing and sustaining the arts community.