Sin City North: Sex, Drugs, and Citizenship in the Detroit-Windsor Borderland

Sin City North: Sex, Drugs, and Citizenship in the Detroit-Windsor Borderland

Sin City North: Sex, Drugs, and Citizenship in the Detroit-Windsor Borderland

Sin City North: Sex, Drugs, and Citizenship in the Detroit-Windsor Borderland

Synopsis

The early decades of the twentieth century sparked the Detroit-Windsor region's ascendancy as the busiest crossing point between Canada and the United States, setting the stage for socioeconomic developments that would link the border cities for years to come. As Holly M. Karibo shows, this border fostered the emergence of illegal industries alongside legal trade, rapid industrial development, and tourism. Tracing the growth of the two cities' cross-border prostitution and heroin markets in the late 1940s and the 1950s, Sin City North explores the social, legal, and national boundaries that emerged there and their ramifications.

In bars, brothels, and dance halls, Canadians and Americans were united in their desire to cross racial, sexual, and legal lines in the border cities. Yet the increasing visibility of illicit economies on city streets--and the growing number of African American and French Canadian women working in illegal trades--provoked the ire of moral reformers who mobilized to eliminate them from their communities. This valuable study demonstrates that struggles over the meaning of vice evolved beyond definitions of legality; they were also crucial avenues for residents attempting to define productive citizenship and community in this postwar urban borderland.

Excerpt

In March of 1950, Essex County Magistrate J. Arthur Hanrahan sentenced local bootlegger Joseph Assef to six months in jail and “plunged the city of Windsor [Ontario] into two weeks of explosive investigations of vicerelated activities in what has long been Canada’s best publicized ‘wideopen town.’ ” During the course of the eight-week-long trial, the Crown presented evidence that Assef had received more than 5,400 illegal liquor deliveries, sometimes as many as sixty a day. While sentencing Assef to the maximum penalty, the judge blasted the Windsor Police Department for its wanton disregard for vice-related crimes. Confirming Hanrahan’s growing conviction that there was something “seriously wrong” in Windsor, Assef’s sentence was meant to call attention to what the judge believed was a growing problem in the city: the expansion and tacit acceptance of vice economies across the Detroit-Windsor borderland.

The public flogging of the Windsor police, which ultimately resulted in a provincial inquiry and the forced retirement of the chief of police, placed an international spotlight on the Canadian border city. Local and international publications began to run stories about the rampant prostitution, gambling, liquor smuggling, and illegal drugs available in Windsor. in seedy establishments like the Blue Water and Ambassador hotels, the articles explained, men and women could mingle virtually unhampered by provincial or municipal laws. Anyone who listened closely could hear jazz music, or the sound of loudspeakers calling out illegal bets, pouring out of local establishments. Inside, Americans and Canadians—often strangers to one another—sang, danced, and consumed too much alcohol.

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