Welcome to the first episode of the Great NOTL Summer Walkabout, a summer-long series of stories that will take you to all corners of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Our reporters will trek around the community to meet residents and visitors, attend events, visit area landmarks and tell stories about what they find.
Our story about the annual Laura Secord Walk is the first step on the journey. Enjoy the Walkabout.
More than two centuries after Laura Secord’s trek to warn the British of an impending attack by the Americans during the War of 1812, the Canadian heroine’s action continues to inspire people like Kimberly Abt and Heidi Poltl.
The two Niagara-on-the-Lake women believe Secord’s bravery in hiking more than 30 kilometres through dangerous territory should never be forgotten.
So, on Saturday morning, they joined more than 80 other hikers who travelled in her footsteps during this year’s Laura Secord Walk. Some of the 85 registrants walked part of the route, some walked only “in spirit,” but all raised a total of $10,000 for War Child Canada.
Leaving her six children and wounded husband behind, Secord journeyed from Queenston to DeCew House in Thorold, not knowing what she might encounter along the way – a feat that leaves Abt somewhat awestruck.
“It’s an incredible thing she did. I can’t imagine doing that in the conditions she would have had back then, not knowing what could be around any corner,” Abt said.
While completing the same walk last year, Abt said she and Poltl discussed Secord’s journey at great length, thankful for what her heroism meant for Canada and noting that, if the American attack had not been defeated, Canada might not be the country it is today.
The two friends said living in NOTL and taking part in the walk reminds them to take stock of the history of their town and of the heroic woman who once called it home.
This year, people filtered in from all over Ontario for the annual walk, citing Secord’s inspiring example, the ambition to challenge oneself and a desire to be out enjoying the gorgeous day as reasons for embarking on the 32-kilometre hike along the path she famously took more than 200 years ago.
Since the first official Laura Secord Walk in 2013, the trek has become a tradition for many of the visitors who gathered at the Laura Secord Homestead in Queenston, many arriving before 8 a.m. to enjoy coffee, snacks and conversation.
The walk takes hikers 32 kilometres along the five sections of the Laura Secord Legacy Trail, which is one leg of the Canadawide Great Trail. An approximation of the route Secord initially took, the path starts from the Laura Secord Homestead and runs to Fireman’s Park in Niagara Falls.
The second stage goes to Niagara College, where many of Saturday’s walkers said they would either stop for a break to maybe enjoy the wine and beer tastings put out by the college and continue on, or perhaps call it a day and take one of the shuttles back to the homestead.
The third stage of the trail brings walkers to Rodman Hall Art Centre on St. Paul Crescent in St. Catharines. The fourth connects to Rotary Park in St. Catharines and the final leg takes the participants to DeCew House in Thorold, where the Friends of Laura Secord had refreshments and water waiting for them, and a shuttle to take them back to the start.
Above and beyond honouring one of Canada’s heroines, the walk also serves as a great way to appreciate and celebrate the start of summer. With the summer solstice arriving the night before, everyone was in good spirits and happy to be out on the journey.
Sisters Leah Feor, a Niagara College employee and a member of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority Board, and Sarah Conidi, who works in the office of the mayor of Niagara Falls, set out to complete the first two stages of the walk together, planning to conclude their hike at Niagara College.
“Just call us the esoteric sisters out for the Laura Secord Walk,” Conidi said in jest. The women said they are interested in everything that brings them closer to the Earth, happy to be taking part in such a historic walk after the summer solstice. Both were eager to get started on their hike.
A trio of women walked the majority of the hike, donning pink Laura Secord shirts. Erika Barber, Marg Pearson and Najma Rawjee, friends and former co-workers, come together each year for the Laura Secord Walk. This year, the three made their way to the finish line with Pearson’s shoe coming apart at the soles.
“I held it together with this hair tie we found along the trail,” Pearson said. If they hadn’t found something to secure the broken shoe, she says she would have kept walking anyway. “What else could I do?”
The hike was also completed by a young group of Pathfinders from Guelph, who arrived at DeCew house around 5:30 p.m.
“It was a great day – really a wonderful event. I must say, every single person we encountered was wonderful. You really have the nicest group of volunteers,” Laura Kellor of the Guelph Pathfinders said in an email response sent out by Caroline McCormick, one of the walk’s organizers.
The walk and the trail itself came together thanks to the work of McCormick, a direct descendant of Secord, and the Friends of Laura Secord group. Closing out the weekend at the Queenston Heights bandshell, a full orchestra performed Eroica at 2 p.m., following a short hike led by Tim Johnson, a senior Indigenous adviser from Six Nations.
Conductor Melanie Paul Tanovich, founding director of Orchestra Brava, led the free performance for more than 150 spectators in the park.
“It’s an incredible performance and we’re so lucky to have Melanie here,” McCormick said.
She said the concert, which was titled Eroica, a Sesquicentennial Tribute to Laura Ingersoll Secord, was the perfect way to close out the weekend.