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In 1885 George C. Buchanan of Kentucky opened this amusement park on the riverfront just below The Sandwich Mineral Springs south of Windsor (now within the Windsor limits). It lay directly opposite the mouth of the River Rouge. The springs were a source of sulphur water, which was believed to have medicinal benefits. George had fled to Canada to avoid his creditors in 1884.
People had flocked to the area for a number of years prompting local ferry companies to begin excursions to the springs starting in 1875. This likely spurred Buchanan to open a resort a decade later. It's unclear if the "Brighton Beach" name was his or one that had been used to describe the area previously.
He built The Brighton Beach Hotel which fronted right on The Detroit River. It was an Elizabethan style building three stories high with a verandah surrounding all but one side. A wine/barroom was in the basement which was catered by Charles Johns, a former steward of The Detroit Club.
A newly built 400-metre driveway lead from the hotel to the springs cutting through constable-patrolled grounds. These sported gravelled walkways with many flowers and shrubs, while seats placed under the trees provided a relaxation stop. Maple trees lined the shore of the lagoon. George netted $5,000 that season, but had it stolen in September by his son, George Junior and daughter-in-law. The park went on, however.
Entertainment was provided with concerts and plays. One advertised was a religious performance for July 4, 1886. There was a Japanese Pavilion theater which provided the plays and likely vaudeville acts. An incident happened in July of 1886 with a troupe performing Gilbert & Sullivan's "The Mikado", a light, english-language opera. It seems the promoter never secured the rights to perform the musical in Canada and he was arrested for copyright infringement. The play had been scheduled for every night at 8 PM with several matinees spread through the week. Seats were 15, 25, and 50 cents. Another performance went on but without a manager or director. However, by the following day, the engagement was terminated and a new play, "The Chimes of Normandy", opened the succeeding day, followed in turn by "Three Too Many".
The only ride mentioned is a roller coaster patterned after one at Coney Island, New York. The "Detroit Free Press" described it as "...a roller tobogganing arrangement where a crowd can go at the rate of a mile a minute for the space of eleven seconds. This is an exact counterpart of the celebrated coasting structure at Coney Island." The "mile a minute" is an obvious exaggeration. That works out to be 96 kilometres per hour and no coasters of that era achieved such a speed.
The ride was described in the "Detroit Evening News" as being the equivalent of 137 metres around. This implies it may have been a continuous circuit. Charles Alcoke had such a ride at Coney Island in 1884 as did Philip Hinkle in 1885. Degigner Alanson Wood had a patent for a "circular railway granted in 1884. As well, La Marcus Thompson had a switchback coaster at Coney Island in 1884, and this coaster may also have been that model, if it wasn't a continuous circuit. Regardless, the Brighton ride was certainly one of the earliest such rides in Canada. (See Dundurn Park for another possible Alcoke or Hinkle creation in this country.)
There is no word on additional Brighton Beach rides yet. However a newspaper report of an accident on the coaster has surfaced. On July 4, 1886 a man was pitched from the ride. He had been drinking and may have been showing off, or simply not hanging on. Coasters of that era had no lap bars or belts. Then again, they also provided a much gentler ride. Regardless, the man dropped about 5 metres to the ground and was thrown about the same distance from the ride. He broke no bones, but was bruised and bleeding. This is the second oldest report which has surfaced of a roller coaster accident in Canada. (See the Hanlan's Point article for an earlier one.)
Additional plans called for a baseball diamond but it's not known if it was built or not. However, lacrosse games were scheduled for July 1st and 4th, 1885, so there was at least a field for that. Ads declaring the teams as the "Independents of Windsor (Champions of the West) versus Six Nation Indians, (Champion Indian Team). Games called at 3 o'clock." Although these games might have been played in any open area, this probably means the fields were constructed. Additional celebration events were "Indian War Dances" on July 2, 3, 4, and 5.
Transportation to the park was via a new bus service started in 1885 and by ferry boats which stopped at the Brighton Beach pier. Boats left Woodward Avenue in Detroit on a daily basis starting at 9:30 AM. They ran hourly until 9 PM with a final boat leaving Brighton at 10 PM. Another ad proclaims half-hourly sailings starting at 10:30 AM. Note that these times don't jibe with one another nor with those shown in the Manhattan Beach article, but appear to be for later in the season when business perhaps warranted more sailings. Although not mentioned, it's possible that these boats may have picked up passengers on the Canadian side, as well. Then too, there may have been more than one ferry company operating, thus the varying times.
Next to the ferry pier at the park, was an enclosure meant for sea lions when the hot season was over, but it's unclear what was meant by that. One would think that these would be an attraction during the warm tourist season, not after. Also available at this location was a smaller wharf from which row boats may have been used.
For July 3rd, 1886, it was reported that 2,500 attended the park to escape a heat wave.
The park operated only for a few years until the sulphur ran out at the springs. People stopped coming so the ferry service was terminated, but it's not known if the busses continued to run. Without the draw of the springs or a ferry service, and coupled with the fact that competitor Boblo Island Park offered more facilities, Brighton Beach likely ceased operations at this point.
As of spring of 2001, the City of Windsor planned to develop heavy industry in Brighton Beach and had rezoned the area. The 426 metres of shoreline is owned by the federal government and managed by the Windsor Port Authority. The City of Windsor also owns a woodlot adjacent to the Port Authority property. Both are currently zoned "Heavy Industrial". Several citizens' groups opposed the move.
|Thanks to Detroit-area resident Mike Schulte for suggesting this park and for providing newspaper articles & additional details.|
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