Laura Secord. A national joke or a national heroine?
The author of a new book on the famous Queenston lady — after whom a candy empire was named — set out to examine the Laura Secord story, a story that has remained undisturbed for years.
What she found after separating fact from fiction was that Laura Ingersoll Secord indeed deserves to be called a true Canadian heroine.
Ruth McKenzie, a retired civil servant from Ottawa, has written the latest book on Laura Secord. entitled Laura Secord: The Legend and The Lady. A pleasant lady, Miss Mckenzie took time out from tier book promoting tour in Metro Niagara and talked with The Review.
Although Miss McKenzie places Laura high among Canadian heroes, she doesn't believe that Laura changed the course of the battle of War of 1812 by walking 20 miles to DeCew's House to deliver a message to Lieutenant James FitzGibbon mat the Americans were planning an attack on him and his soldiers.
"To say that Laura Secord saved Canada from falling into American hands, as some of her very zealous admirers have claimed, is to exaggerate the importance of the Niagara frontier," Miss McKenzie writes in her book.
She believes that the Niagara frontier was important but she agrees with historians that the naval struggle on the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain was the crucial factor in the outcome of the war.
"Whoever controlled the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes could control the interior, for this waterway was the vital artery of communications and supply."
But, she says, Laura was a key figure in winning the important battle, the Battle of Beaver Dams in which the greatly outnumbered British-Canadian forces defeated the Americans.
It was Laura's warning — the result of an overheard conversation — that prevented the Yankee attack on DeCew House. It was the Americans who were surprised and routed, mainly by the fighting of Indians.
In the 1930s, Laura Secord and her famous walk were ridiculed following the publication of some books.
Miss McKenzie's association with Laura's debunkers dates back to the days when she was a student at university. One of her teachers, William Stewart Wallace, a librarian of the University of Toronto, crushed Laura Secord admirers by dismissing Laura's walk as historically insignificant.
Wallace claimed that FitzGibbon had been warned by the Indians of the expected American attack before Laura Secord arrived.
The book, published about 1930, created alarm but other documents and bits of evidence unearthed later substantiated the story that Laura, the young house wife, alone trudged the 20 miles and was the first to warn FitzGibbon that the Americans planned to attack.
The story about Laura driving a cow into the woods, so as not to arouse suspicion among American sentries was bull.
The cow-and-the-milk-pail fable was concocted by William F. Coffin who even managed to refer to Laura as Mary in his 1864 book, 1812: the War and Its Moral.
There's enough supporting evidence that the cow story was fiction.
The first printing of Miss McKenzie's book sold out quickly, surprising the publishers, McClelland and , Stewart. The second printing is now underway.
When Miss McKenzie — one time librarian and freelance editor — was on a recent tour in Alberta and Saskatchewan promoting her new book, she found that Westerners were genuinely interested in Laura Secord, the Canadian heroine.
Like the young people and educators in this country, she feels there is a need for more books on Canadian heroes and deeds. She hopes that her new book is widely read among school children as well as adults.
Miss McKenzie's book on Laura Secord is her second. Her first book, the result of a Centennial assignment, was Leeds and Grenville: Their First Two Hundred Years.
WRITES LAURA SECORD BOOK — Miss Ruth McKenzie, author of a new book on Laura Second, stands in front of the Laura Secord home now being restored on Queen St. in Queenston. Miss McKenzie, who was in Metro Niagara for the past few days promoting her book, contends that Laura Secord is a genuine Canadian heroine. The title of her book is Laura Secord: The Legend and the Lady