Happy Birthday Hiram: The Walker Family Legacy Celebrated

Article content

It was a celebration of 206 years in the making.

Advertisement 2

Article content

Windsor marked Hiram Walker’s birthday over the weekend with three days of events celebrating the light behind many of Windsor’s most beloved institutions and industries.

The festivities kicked off early Saturday with the unveiling of a larger-than-life bronze statue of Hiram Walker, perched atop barrels and with plans in hand to build his empire. The statue is on the corner of Riverside Drive and Devonshire Road.

“The city of Windsor would be a shadow of itself without the indelible contributions of Hiram Walker,” said Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens. “That’s why we are so proud to honor him with this larger-than-life statue.”

City lights, councilors and project donors gathered on Saturday, July 2, to officially unveil the statue of Hiram Walker.
City lights, councilors and project donors gathered on Saturday, July 2, to officially unveil the statue of Hiram Walker. Photo by Kathleen SaylorsWindsor Star

The statue was created by artists Mark and Laura Williams, who actually created the statue several years before it was unveiled on Saturday, in part due to pandemic restrictions.

Advertisement 3

Article content

The couple said they were initially nervous about the Saturday morning reveal, as they hadn’t seen the statue in four years.

“I kind of forgot what it looked like,” said Mark. “It’s almost a new piece for me.”

Mark is a well-known local artist and has created eight statues throughout the city commemorating Windsor’s history.

He said he initially sketched out what the sculpture should become, then had friend Joe Lemay pose in a set that resembled Walker’s clothes from the era, while Laura created the barrels that Walker stands on.

It’s “a great feeling,” Laura said.

Mark and Laura Williams, the artists behind the Hiram Walker statue now located on Riverside Drive and Devonshire Road, attended the unveiling of the large bronze artwork on July 2, 2022.  Mark has sculpted the figure of Walker - based on friend Joe Lemay's gait and posture - while Laura created the whiskey casks that Walker stands on.
Mark and Laura Williams, the artists behind the Hiram Walker statue now located on Riverside Drive and Devonshire Road, attended the unveiling of the large bronze artwork on July 2, 2022. Mark has sculpted the figure of Walker – based on friend Joe Lemay’s gait and posture – while Laura created the whiskey casks that Walker stands on. Photo by Kathleen SaylorsWindsor Star

Pamela Morse is Walker’s great-great-granddaughter and made the journey from Grosse Point, Michigan to attend the unveiling with her husband Tony.

Advertisement 4

Article content

“We are so proud of everything he has accomplished,” Morse said.

To help document the history of the Walker family and its impact on Walkerville and present-day Windsor, Willistead Manor also unveiled a new exhibit in the mansion’s coach house.

“This beautifully designed exhibit shares the story and legacy of Hiram Walker, Edward and Mary Walker, the formation of Walkerville and the building of Willistead Manor,” said Willistead Manor CEO Douglas Sanborn. “It will serve to enhance the tour of the mansion, raise public awareness and increase how truly special Walkerville and the home is.”

Sanborn said the idea for an exhibit on the Walker family was in the works about a year before COVID-19, with the Willistead pandemic eventually shutting down Willistead for more than two years.

Advertisement 5

Article content

The public was invited to the unveiling of a new exhibit at the Willistead Coachhouse depicting the history of the Walker family and Willistead Manor on July 2, 2022.
The public was invited to the unveiling of a new exhibit at the Willistead Coachhouse depicting the history of the Walker family and Willistead Manor on July 2, 2022. Photo by Kathleen SaylorsWindsor Star

The HCA Mindbox team created the exhibition design with research material from the mansion’s board members and an upcoming documentary about the history of the house. Willistead Manor is open for tours on Wednesdays and Sundays through July, and the new exhibit is included in upcoming tours.

The day concluded with a memorial service at the graveside of Edward and Mary Walker, the son and daughter-in-law of Hiram Walker and the couple behind Willistead Manor, who built and lived in the couple. Willistead Manor is named after Willis Walker, Edward’s older brother who died young.

Famous for the Hiram Walker and Sons Distillery, which produces Canada Club whiskey, Walker also established what would become the town of Walkerville, now Windsor’s artsy Walkerville neighborhood.

Advertisement 6

Article content

Hiram Walker and his family were also involved in Willistead Manor, the Windsor airport, the Windsor Regional Hospital Met campus, the original Essex Golf Club, schools including the Walkerville Collegiate Institute, and establishing a ferry service from Windsor to Detroit.

And partly because of the community and infrastructure Walker built, Canada’s first auto factory was established in Windsor, adjacent to Walkerville.

Michelle Mainwaring, an actor who donned a period costume on Saturday, July 2, 2022, in honor of Hiram Walkers 206th birthday.  Mainwarning works with the Rum Runner Tours who play the historical figure Bertha Thomas.
Michelle Mainwaring, an actor who donned a period costume on Saturday, July 2, 2022, in honor of Hiram Walkers 206th birthday. Mainwarning works with the Rum Runner Tours who play the historical figure Bertha Thomas. Photo by Kathleen SaylorsWindsor Star
Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens speaks at the unveiling of Hiram Walker and Willistead Manor's new exhibit at the Willistead Manor Coach House on Saturday, July 2, 2022.
Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens speaks at the unveiling of Hiram Walker and Willistead Manor’s new exhibit at the Willistead Manor Coach House on Saturday, July 2, 2022. Photo by Kathleen SaylorsWindsor Star

“He literally built the buildings and infrastructure for his companies. That’s how he built up a community’, says Dilkens.

“Art… gives us the opportunity to think about who we’ve been, where we came from, but at the same time helps us celebrate where we are now and where we’re going.”

The City and Museum Windsor are also looking for artifacts from the Windsor distillery and the history of the Prohibition to make a permanent display at Museum Windsor so if members of the public have artifacts they would like to preserve and display see, they are encouraged to contact the museum.

[email protected]

twitter.com/KathleenSaylors

Douglas Sanborn, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Willistead Manor, introduces a new exhibit, unveiled on July 2, 2022, featuring the history of the Walker family, Hiram Walker Distillery, Walkerville and Willistead Manor.
Douglas Sanborn, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Willistead Manor, introduces a new exhibit, unveiled on July 2, 2022, featuring the history of the Walker family, Hiram Walker Distillery, Walkerville and Willistead Manor. Photo by Kathleen SaylorsWindsor Star
A street market with local vendors in Old Walkerville took part in the festivities celebrating Hiram Walker's 206th birthday.
A street market with local vendors in Old Walkerville took part in the festivities celebrating Hiram Walker’s 206th birthday. Photo by Kathleen SaylorsWindsor Star

Comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively yet civilized discussion forum and encourages all readers to share their thoughts on our articles. It can take up to an hour for comments to be moderated before appearing on the site. We ask that you keep your comments relevant and respectful. We’ve enabled email notifications – you’ll now receive an email when you get a reply to your comment, there’s an update in a comment thread you’re following, or a user follows comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

Leave a Comment