Inspiration to Guiding: Following in the Footsteps of a Canadian Heroine

Flashback to 1813

On the evening of June 21, 1813, American soldiers knocked on the door of the Secord home in Queenston, Ontario, demanding food.  As they ate, Laura Secord overheard their plans to attack the British and Canadian forces stationed at Beaver Dams.  Although Laura was born in the United States, she had emigrated to Canada with her family, and she knew that if the British were not warned about the impending American attack, the results could be disastrous.

For over a year, the War of 1812 had been raging, and Laura’s own husband had been seriously wounded at the Battle of Queenston Heights the previous fall. Parts of the Niagara Region were already in American hands, and any more victories might mean that all of Upper Canada could become a part of the United States. As her husband was still too injured to travel, and her children were too young to make the trek with her, she set out alone to warn Lieutenant Fitzgibbon about the Americans’ plans.

Leaving her home in Queenston before dawn on the morning of June 22, Laura first made her way to her sister-in-law’s home in St. Davids.  Finding that none of her family members were able to make the journey, Laura realized it was up to her to take the message to Decew House, where the British and Canadian forces were stationed.  Avoiding main roads for fear of encountering American soldiers, she passed through St. Catharines, crossed streams and swamps, and finally climbed up the Niagara Escarpment, where she encountered a group of First Nations warriors.  She insisted that she be taken to Lieutenant Fitzgibbon, and although exhausted, she finished her trek to Decew House and passed on her warning.  Thanks to her courage and heroism, the American attack was thwarted by the First Nations allies, and a large force of American soldiers was captured.  Laura received little recognition for her bravery during her lifetime.  She continued in her role as wife and mother, and was only rewarded late in life by a monetary gift from the Prince of Wales.

First Guide Company from St. Catharines at Queenston Heights. Source:  "The Story of the Girl Guides in Ontario." Katherine Panabaker.

First Guide Company from St. Catharines at Queenston Heights. The Story of the Girl Guides in Ontario. By Katherine Panabaker.

Fast forward 100 years to 1913

The first registered Guiding unit in Canada had been formed in St. Catharines three years prior, and the Guides often traveled by “covered wagon” to Queenston Heights for picnics.  The first of these trips was taken on a swelteringly hot day (much like the day Laura had made her walk) to take part in the unveiling of a statue of Laura Secord.  She was considered by the early Guides to be “…resourceful and an inspiration to Guiding.  One Guide recalls that the Guider took along a concoction of oatmeal water to keep her Guides cool.” (The Story of the Girl Guides in Ontario by Katherine Panabaker, Girl Guides of Canada, Ontario Council, 1966).

Fast forward another 100 years to 2013

The Bicentennial of the War of 1812 is being celebrated, and the decision is made to commemorate Laura Secord’s bravery with a hike, following the approximate route she would have taken.  Growing up in the Niagara Region, steeped in this history, and having worked at the Laura Secord Homestead as a teenager, I felt incredibly compelled to be a part of this event.  Knowing about the connection of the early Guides to Laura, I also wanted my daughter, a first-year Spark, to be a part of this ongoing history as well.  So, on the morning of June 22, 2013, we set out from Laura’s house on the first leg of a 32km trek.

If you’ve ever hiked with Sparks, you know that a 32km hike is a bit ambitious.  Luckily, the hike organizers had thought of that, and shuttle buses were available to help us get to each of the checkpoints beyond the first leg.  There were activities, music, dancing and art all along the route, commemorating Laura, the First Nations and Canadians who stood up and fought for what they believed in.  Arriving at Decew House late in the afternoon, we felt a great sense of accomplishment, and had a new appreciation for the sacrifices and contributions early Canadians made.

Megan's daughter at the end of the hike, with her medallion for completing the Laura Secord Walk!

Megan’s daughter at the end of the hike, with her medallion for completing the Laura Secord Walk!

So, do I think Laura Secord is still an inspiration to Guiding 200 years later?  I certainly think that she evoked our Promise and Laws:  she “did her best” and was “true to herself, her beliefs and Canada.”  By undertaking such a long, dangerous walk, putting herself and her family at risk of reprisal from the Americans, she “recognized her talents and abilities” and absolutely lived “with courage and strength.”  I like to think that if Guiding had existed back then, Laura would have approved.

Photo Courtesy Megan Gilchrist

Photo Courtesy Megan Gilchrist

By guest blogger and Guider ‘Glowie’, aka Megan Gilchrist. Megan is the Contact Guider for the 7th St. Catharines Guiding (multi-branch)Unit. Read Megan’s other contributions to GirlGuidesCANBlog: I Bee-Lieve in Camp, Geo-What??? Or How to Hunt for Treasure in Your own Backyard, Hands-on History, Every Penny Counts, and “Multi-Branch” Means More Fun!

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2 Responses to Inspiration to Guiding: Following in the Footsteps of a Canadian Heroine

  1. Shana says:

    YAY Megan!!!!! You and your daughter should be so proud of that accomplishement!!!

  2. Tara L. says:

    Thanks for this blogpost Megan! My daughter just received some Laura Secord lollipops from her grandma for her birthday. My mom did try to tell her about Laura Secord so she knew who she was and why she was important. I’m going to share your blog with her as well as an example of a strong, Canadian woman.

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