Champion of history turns 100

Posted May 28, 2013  by Niagara This Week Source

For most of us in Niagara, the name Laura Secord is synonymous with the War of 1812, as is her central role in one of the war’s key battles.

It’s now accepted fact that Secord, a petite wife and mother, overheard plans for American soldiers to invade into Thorold in June of 1813, prompting her to embark on what was certainly a difficult trek from her home in Queenston to the DeCew House in Thorold, where she warned British soldiers.

History has it that her warning allowed native warriors loyal to the British to ambush the American interlopers, leading to a key British victory in the war.

But if not for Esther Summers, Secord might have been written out of the history books.

Summers, official historian of Thorold and someone who helped established historical societies and museums in different Niagara communities, toiled for an astounding 60 years, researching Secord. She said at one point other so-called historians were asserting that Secord’s journey actually began after the Battle of Beaverdams in Thorold already took place.

Thanks to Summers’ research, Secord’s rightful place in history has been maintained.

Summers marks a milestone on Monday, June 3, when she turns 100 years old. She’s legally blind, but Summers — who recently moved to the Linhaven long-term care home in St. Catharines — still has an encyclopedia-like mind that can recite dates and facts with the efficiency of a super computer.

Summers’ daughter Kristin Dobbie remembers when she grew up how folks from far and wide came to knock on the family’s Beaverdams Road farmhouse door on a daily basis, seeking historical information that only Esther could dig up. More often than not, the people arriving were total strangers, but that didn’t matter: Esther would simply invite them in for tea, then serve them supper.

Generations of authors, reporters and TV producers relied on Esther’s relentless collecting, sorting and cataloguing of old documents to produce shows, books and articles.

Most of Esther’s documents that used to fill four rooms at the family home are now safely stored at the Mayholme Foundation on Linwell Road in St. Catharines. On Sunday, the foundation is hosting an open house in her honour from 2-4 p.m.

There is little doubt that if not for Esther, much of this area’s history — and information on the early people who lived here — might well have been lost forever.

Given her role in preserving history, it’s only fitting that Esther herself now makes history by becoming a centenarian.