DeCew House a focal point in the Battle of Beaverdams

Posted June 22, 2013  by Sun Media - Source

Sun Media – By Jeff Blay

THOROLD – What was merely intended to be a sturdy family home turned out to be one of the most significant sites in Canadian history.

The Battle of Beaverdams may be most known for Laura Secord’s famous walk, or the crucial efforts of the Six Nations warriors, who fought and won the battle. But the stone farmhouse used by the British army as a detachment headquarters – known today as the DeCew House – has a story of its own.

“Its owner, John DeCew, had the bad luck of being captured at Fort George in May of 1813 and was a prisoner of war at a Philadelphia jail,” explained John Burtniak, chair of Thorold’s War of 1812 committee. “He was not at home, so to speak, when history unfolded here.”

Built by DeCew, a military captain, circa 1808, the DeCew House was used by the British during his absence in 1813. It’s known as the site where Laura Secord warned British Lieutenant James Fitzgibbon of an American advance prior to the Battle of Beaverdams, turning the tides of the war entirely.

“If Fitzgibbon had not known the Americans were intending to capture this place, the Americans would have showed up and likely taken the house, but they were stopped by the British soldiers and native allies,” Burtniak said. “Had the Americans beaten the British in the Battle of Beaverdams, it could have changed the whole course of the War of 1812.”

After the war, DeCew lived in the house with his family, also operating a nearby mill at what is now known as DeCew Falls, before selling it in 1834. Another owner occupied the house until 1942, when the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario (presently the Ontario Power Commission) acquired the land.

The original structure then burnt down in 1950, but Ontario Power Generation restored the lower part of the stone walls and installed a commemorative plaque explaining its history.

It has since been designated as a historic site and is still – 200-years after the Battle of Beaverdams – being put to good use.

The DeCew House Heritage Park is home to many of Thorold’s War of 1812 bicentennial events, which kicked off Saturday and continue through the weekend.

“This was a very appropriate place to begin the commemoration and celebration,” said Burtniak. “We’re commemorating the battle, and celebrating the peace that came from it.”

Along with marking the finishing point of the 32 km Laura Secord Commemorative Walk, the site was buzzing with spectators taking in a variety of performances and activities.

Highlights included the Ontario Guild of Town Criers competition, a camp of period re-enactors and a special re-enactment of Laura Secord’s rendezvous with Lieutenant Fitzgibbon on the eve of June 22, 1813.

Thorold Mayor Ted Luciani, Welland MP Malcom Allen, MPP Cindy Forster and Niagara Region Chair Gary Burroughs were in attendance and each shared sentiments about the battle.

For Luciani, the Battle of Beaverdams is certainly his most memorable event from the War of 1812 and will forever put Thorold on the map.

“This particular combat is widely considered a turning point in Canadian history and the DeCew House was the focal point of it all,” he said. “It’s great to be part of and I’m very proud of my city and the people who put this event together, and we still have lots more to celebrate.”

More War of 1812 bicentennial events continue at the DeCew House on Sunday, beginning with a pancake breakfast at 9 a.m., followed by the final portion of the Town Criers competition, an all-faith service and other period performances.

A memorial site dedication and native reconciliation ceremony also takes place Sunday at the site of the actual Battle of Beaverdams on the east side of the Welland Canal at Davis Rd. and Old Thorold Stone Rd. in Thorold.

On Monday, June 24, the official bicentennial date of the battle, a remembrance ceremony and memorial service will take place at Battle of Beaverdams Park on Sullivan Ave. starting at 2 p.m.