It was June 21, 1813, in the midst of the War of 1812, that a young woman in the American-occupied Niagara Peninsula learned of a sneak attack on Lieutenant James FitzGibbon’s British troops. Laura Secord, who had been nursing her injured husband and (according to legend) heard of the impending attack from dining American soldiers, trekked 32 kilometres to FitzGibbon’s base to warn the lieutenant.
Two hundred years later, Muriel Clemmer, Dianne Dunlop, and Faith Bauman – three Elmira sisters who count Secord as their seventh great-aunt – retraced her journey as part of the Laura Secord Bicentennial Event and Commemorative Walk in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
The verdict? Secord didn’t have it easy.
“We were pumped the first six, 12 … even at 18km we were doing pretty good,” said Dunlop. “And then, by the last eight, I was going to push her over the ravine,” she added, pointing at Clemmer.
“I don’t know how she did it,” said Clemmer of her ancestor. “There were no signs, no one with her, no water stops like we had. The three of us thought this was a good lesson in endurance and staying the path for the good of others.
“It was hot and humid, and it was hot and humid the day she did it too, and a lot of her walk would have been in the mush.”
Canadian history may have been very different had Secord not braved the marsh, swamp, gravel, and blistering heat. On the 200th anniversary of her legendary journey, 1,000 people – including Laureen Harper (wife of Stephen) and descendants of Secord and FitzGibbon – convened at Niagara to pay tribute to the Canadian hero.
“While we were walking, we were wondering what part of Canada would belong to the States if it hadn’t been for her,” said Faith Bauman. “The Great Lakes, everybody wants those – they’re beautiful. That might not be ours.”
“I feel it’s very important to remember that on the Canada Day Weekend,” added Clemmer. “We actually just signed up to do the beginning and the end, which would have been 12km. But we thought, ‘We’ve got to do this whole thing,’ and we pushed each other on.”
Participating in the walk not only made Secord’s struggle tangible, but also underlined her resourcefulness and strength.
“What amazes me is, these soldiers carried on a conversation,” said Dunlop. “They must have known full well she was listening, but they must have thought, ‘She’s a woman, it won’t matter, she won’t do anything.’ … She really proved them wrong.”
In her lifetime, Secord was not exactly received as a hero. In reports after the Battle of Beaver Dams, her name is not mentioned, and after the war, she raised seven children on her husband’s meager war pension and some money from renting property. Despite frequent petitioning, she received no official acknowledgment for her heroism until 1860, when she was 85, when King Edward VII (then Prince of Wales) sent her a £110 reward. She died in 1868 at age 93.
For as long as they can remember, the sisters heard stories of their great-aunt from their grandmother, Laura Secord-Dunlop, a historian who studied the walk. But while Secord is a legend in the Niagara area, she has earned much of her recognition for a venture she was never involved in.
“So many people I talk to say, ‘Oh, the Laura Secord Walk, that means chocolate,’” said Bauman. “There are a lot of people that don’t realize that it’s more than chocolate, and how pivotal her journey was.”
A pause. “I don’t think that’s even her real picture on the box,” laughed Clemmer.