Laura Secord. What do you think of when you hear the name? If you’re not Canadian, probably nothing, but if you grew up in Ontario Laura Secord was synonymous with ice cream and chocolate. Americans can have their Baskin Robbins and Starbucks, we Canucks had Laura Secord and Tim Horton’s and they are awesome. Here’s a wee fact: Canada is one of the only countries where a local coffee chain outsells Starbucks. Thats 60% of all coffee sold in the country. I’m as proud of this as I am that Irn Bru outsells Coca Cola in Scotland.
Canadian history classes at school were very male-centric; we learned about fur traders and settlers (mostly men), wars (started by men) and Prime Ministers (almost all men). It wasn’t that women didn’t play a massive role in Canada’s growth as a fledgling country, but our outdated history textbooks certainly didn’t reflect it. What we were taught about Canadian women was how they ran their homes, what they cooked, who they married. They were daughters and sisters and wives. The one-sided depiction of events taught us who they belonged to, but not much about the contribution of women to our country.
As a child, I wasn’t allowed to watch a lot of television. Besides, we only had the basic channels until I was almost in high school, so other than seeing a preteen Alanis Morisette getting slimed on “You Can’t Do That on Television” every day my favourite thing was the Historica Canada adverts. Yes, adverts. Their Heritage Minutes series each showcased a proud moment in Canadian history for women, from the first woman to be elected to Parliament in 1921, and the key members of the Canadian suffrage movement who helped get her there. There were women of extraordinary talent, and bravery, and intelligence. They were artists and writers, revolutionary and political heroines, teachers and nurses and doctors. These awesome Canadian women were so integral in the development of the country I am proud to be a part of.
Let’s go back, way back, to the war of 1812. Canada was still a British Colony, and American militia had occupied the Niagara region of Upper Canada. American Patriots invaded the Niagara Peninsula and the homes of the Canadian settlers in Queenstown. In June of 1813 they forced their way into the family home of Laura Secord and her family, insisting they were provided with dinner and wine as their due. Oh the entitlement. As the night wore on they grew drunker and drunker, and the more they drank the less they watched their words in front of their “hosts”. Everyone remembers Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride during the American War of Independence, but how many know of Laura Secord’s trek?
On Jun 21 1813, the soldiers in the Secord home let slip of their plans to crush the remnants of the Loyalist resistance in Upper Canada by launching a surprise attack on Lieutenant FitzGibbon at Beaver Dams; if they succeeded the Americans would take the whole of the Niagara Peninsula. So at dawn, Laura Secord set out to make the 30km trip on foot to warn FitzGibbon herself.
If you’ve ever made the trip to Upper Canada, that isn’t exactly a casual stroll at the best of times, but to avoid capture she took the back roads to where Fitzgibbon and his 50 troops were stationed. She was alone for most of her journey, through bogs and swamps and brambles in the blazing heat; found by a band of Iroquois just as she neared FitzGibbon’s camp, she was escorted the final leg of her journey to warn the Loyalists. Two days later the combined Loyalist troops and Iroquois allies managed to intercept the American militia who surrendered at Beaver Dams.
It wasn’t until 1860 that her bravery was publicly acknowledged. The Prince of Wales heard her story and gave her an award of £100, 47 years later. Nearly half a century after she made that 30km walk through the backwoods of Upper Canada her bravery was recognised, and since then there have been schools and libraries and numbers public buildings named after this awesome Canadian woman.
And a chocolate shop.