DeCew House focus of new heritage park
The front door is gone and the building burned down, but the stone front step is still there where Laura Secord’s petite feet — shoes no doubt tattered and dirty — stepped across with a message that changed history.
Last Friday evening, 199 years to the day after the exhausted Queenston woman brought warning of an invading force of American soldiers to what was then a British garrison at DeCew House in Thorold, nearly 100 people gathered for the official opening of the new DeCew House Heritage Park.
Secord, a wife and mother, struggled through 32 kilometres of what was then largely dense bush to inform British Lieut. James Fitzgibbon that hundreds of armed American soldiers were heading down toward Thorold with mayhem on their minds. The War of 1812 had become nasty, with both sides taking turns invading each others’ territory, razing buildings and killing with cannonballs and musket fire.
Secord’s warning allowed the British to prepare: hundreds of native warriors on the side of the British laid in wait and ambushed the American soldiers, leading to their surrender in a battle that’s believed to have helped to turn the tide of the war.
Although the home that was owned by militia captain and businessman John DeCew burned down years ago, its stone foundation — complete with fireplaces — remains intact. But until recently, the Decew Road property it sits upon was overgrown with weeds and brush. City of Thorold crews worked hard to clean up the grounds, trim low-lying branches on the huge trees, and expanded and graded the parking lot. Plans also call for a flagpole with a Union Jack flag, a large boulder placed out front to signify the historical significance of the property, and flowers to be planted.
Caroline McCormick, a direct descendent of Secord who is president of the Friends of Laura Secord group, told nearly 100 people gathered for the opening of the new DeCew House Heritage Park on Friday evening that the foundations sit on “hallowed” ground.
“Today is the 199th anniversary of Laura Secord’s epic journey. On this day, at this time, in 1812, Laura was out there somewhere in the bush, alone and exhausted and afraid and wondering if she’d make it,” she said. “She’s one of the people we can thank for defining Canada as we know it today.”
John Burtniak, chair of the Thorold War of 1812 Bicentennial Committee, said the nearly completed park will ensure a lasting legacy for Secord.
“We wanted it reborn,” he said of the property. “It is reborn.”
Brian Merrett, head of the Niagara 1812 Bicentennial Legacy Council, lavished praise on the work of the local 1812 committee.
“It’s a national treasure that needed to be preserved,” he said of the property. “The work that’s been done here is truly magnificent.”
Thorold regional councillor Henry D’Angela, who was mayor when the local 1812 committee was formed, singled out former city councillor Fred Neale’s perseverance in getting the city to purchase the DeCew House property for a nominal price from a provincial hydro agency.
“I know this is going to be cherished not just by us, but by future generations,” he said.