The Jackson Park Band Shell
A story by Madeline Mazak
It’s impossible to talk about Windsor music history and disregard the significance of Jackson Park—specifically the band shell tucked away in the southeast corner of the grounds.
Overshadowed by the reaching spires of Kennedy High School and the sprawling fields of Windsor Stadium, the worn-down, mid-century structure, haphazardly covered in debris left by the City of Windsor’s parks department, appears to be nothing special. A quick google search is all it takes to recognize the band shell is anything but ordinary. The stage was host to the likes of Diana Ross and the Supremes (at the time known as The Primettes), The Temptations, Stevie Wonder and many other recognized names. The Beach Boys also performed in Windsor Stadium—the heritage site adjacent to the band shell with a capacity of 3,000—more than half the capacity of the Colosseum at Caesars Windsor casino.
Myself—and I’m certain a handful of other Windsorites—grew up here unaware this historical gem still stands today. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in pockets of the city’s vibrant music scene, it is likely you’ll overhear someone recalling a time they saw a show at the band shell, or the time their band won the Battle of the Bands—an annual competition that ended every labour day weekend with a bang and drew thousands to Jackson Park. For many amateur bands in Windsor, this was the event of the year.
I remember when I first learned about the band shell. Over a few drinks, Scott “Scotty” Hughes nonchalantly recollected the time he almost electrocuted himself on the stage right before his band Galleon performed in front of a crowd of 2,500 at the Battle of the Bands in 1972. He learned a hard lesson that night: his electric guitar and rain did not mix well. Something about having some “sense knocked into him.” The headline in the Windsor Star the following day aptly read: “Before the light rains, came the thunder…of the bands.”
Naturally, it begs the question: why is the band shell not in use today?
Was it becoming difficult to navigate an increasingly complex web of noise bylaws? Did the City of Windsor decide the stage was better used as a storage space for the parks department? Did the construction of the Riverfront Festival Plaza eliminate the need to maintain an outdoor venue in Jackson Park? Information is not available to definitively say why it stopped being used, but it's fair to say the band shell has been out of commission for roughly 20 years. If this can be boiled down to a deficit in public interest, it is a far cry from the response received after a massive fire burnt the original band shell down in 1957. The band shell was so signifiant to Windsor culture that within three days of the fire, a committee was formed by Windsor Mayor Michael J. Patrick to rebuild the band shell. Construction was completed two years later in 1959. The show must go on.
Today the band shell is fenced off from the public; property of the City of Windsor. It is listed on the Municipal Heritage Register but does not have “designated” status which would protect it from disrepair or from being torn down. Considering the space provided by Windsor Stadium and the band shell, it is no wonder Jackson Park was once the hub for massive events in the city. With a little planning, the park could be home to large-scale events once again.
If you ever find yourself out for a walk in Jackson Park, I recommend making your way to the southeast corner to find the band shell. If you use a little imagination, you may just hear the thunder…of the bands.
Many thanks for this story Madeline Mazak.... photo by Scotty Hughes shot on Aug. 24, 2021
AN IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE: be sure to visit CBC GEM to watch independent filmmaker, Madeline Mazak's documentary: THE JACKSON PARK BAND SHELL - a part of "REEL SHORTS: WINDSOR" visit: https://gem.cbc.ca/media/absolutely-canadian/s21e09