Because of this, Windsor was known as the “wedding mill” for quick American weddings
When librarian Katharine Ball in Windsor, Ontario, was digitizing old church records, she was at a loss—many marriages had been performed by the local clergy.
Provincial records showed Ball that between 1875 and 1913 there were an “extraordinary” number of marriages between American couples in the region.
Browsing through old digital newspapers, Ball quickly realized that it wasn’t because Windsor was a popular tourist destination – it was because the town was getting involved in a lucrative business.
“The story had been forgotten — it just revealed itself in layers,” said Ball, who created a website that breaks down the phenomenon.
Windsor’s reputation as a wedding destination was the result of amendments to Ontario’s Marriage Code in 1875, which made marriage rules looser than those in the United States.
“[The changes] made it easier for foreigners to get married here. There was no waiting period, no residency requirements, and you basically had to say you were of legal age and there was no reason you couldn’t get married,” Ball said.
Tom Vajdik, local history librarian at Windsor Public Library, said there are fewer questions, making the process that much easier.
“You would come here, get a license and find a minister or priest and get married here in Windsor,” he said.
This led to quite a booming business for the clergy and for people selling marriage licenses, flowers and dresses along with those who provided rooms for the new couples.
Windsor was Ontario’s “Gretna Green”
Eventually, the town became known as “Ontario’s Gretna Green.”
In Scotland, Gretna Green was a small village where young English couples fled to get married. This happened more than 100 years before Windsor saw a similar trend with the US
Runaway lovers whose parents disagreed, couples with huge age gaps, the divorced and first cousins all found it easier to get married in Windsor, Ball said.
Couples came to the region by ferry, held a short ceremony and signed a license.
“For example, there’s a story about a couple who actually, I think they must have arrived quite late, they actually woke up the minister, dragged him out of bed and so they actually got married at his house,” she said added that occasionally the wives of ministers or householders served as witnesses.
In another case, an article reported on the Windsor marriage of a couple with a 51-year age difference. The article states: “Mrs. Love Foster, 77, and Charles Mardon, 26, travel to Windsor Gretna Green where the knot will effectively be tied.”
At the time, Windsor’s Evening Record newspaper reported booming business, but the Detroit Free Press viewed what was happening as damaging.
The newspaper often reported that the city ran a “marriage mill,” citing this as the reason for Detroit’s high divorce rate.
“The Windsor bridal mill produces grist for the Detroit divorce mill,” reads a line in the Evening Record of July 9, 1912.
Local newspapers have written many stories on the subject over the years, with headlines such as ‘Wedding in Windsor, penance later’ and ‘Windsor’s ministers reap bounty’.
The government makes changes after the peak of weddings
An article in the Evening Record newspaper of July 9, 1904 states that between January and the end of June of that year about 15 marriages took place per week, with a total of 433 marriages taking place in those six months.
By 1912, Ball said, the number of marriages had peaked — in Windsor there were about 176 marriages per 1,000 people, while the provincial average was about 12 or 13 per 1,000 people.
“So it was totally out of control,” Ball said, laughing.
“They tried to introduce reforms earlier, but they failed.”
In 1913, the Ontario government introduced new rules that required you to reside for 15 days in the area where you wished to get married, or to give advance notice of the wedding.
After this came into force, the number of marriages in the province declined.
Despite the controversial deal and its sudden demise, Ball said she still believes Windsor is a city of love.
“Of course it is a city of love. said bullet.