|Laura Secord's journey has become folklore, not all of it true. But there is no doubt she played a role in warning an elite unit of British troops of an ambush, which they avoided and went on to beat the American troops in the War of 1812. (Illustration by Keith Milne and colourist Gord Coulthart, Special to QMI Agency)
Laura Secord - the quintessential Canadian heroine of the War of 1812 - was born in 1775, not in Canada, but in Massachusetts.
Her father, Thomas Ingersoll, fought on the side of the rebels loyal to England during the American Revolution. In 1795, he took a township grant to settle and moved the family to Upper Canada. His farm later became the site of the town of Ingersoll, Ontario.
In 1797, Laura met the love of her life - James Secord of Queenston.
Secord was also the child of a Loyalist. His father was also an officer in the famous guerilla fighting regiment, Butler's Rangers. Butler's Rangers spawned the Lincoln Militia, later known as the Lincoln and Welland Militia.
When James Secord was wounded at the Battle of Queenston Heights, fighting in the Lincoln Militia, Laura found her husband on the battlefield and rescued him.
He had not yet recovered from his injuries when, in June of 1813, Laura learned, possibly from some American soldiers billeted in her home, that the Americans were going to attack a British unit near a place called Beaver Dams.
The unit was an elite fighting force - 50 "chosen men" - led by James FitzGibbon. They had been harassing the Americans by conducting raids and spying on American troop movements.
Laura decided she would have to warn the British unit herself and left early the next morning.
Her journey has become folklore, not all of it true. It is not known if she walked barefoot, as some stories claim. And the notion that she took a cow with her as a cover in case she was stopped by American troops and accused of spying was created by a writer in the mid-1800s.
But she was concerned about falling into American hands and so took a difficult and circuitous route. It was only 12 miles by direct road to the British outpost at Beaver Dams, but Laura's trip was 20 miles.
First she went to St. Davids, where her niece, Elizabeth Secord, joined her. At Shipman's Corners, now called St. Catharines, Elizabeth dropped out and Laura continued alone. She followed Twelve Mile Creek through fields and woods and eventually came across an encampment of First Nations warriors. When she explained her mission, the chief gave her an escort to FitzGibbon.
Within two days, FitzGibbon and his forces ambushed the American attackers, who eventually surrendered to FitzGibbon.
Laura and her husband James lived in poverty for more than a decade after the war. He became a judge and customers collector, but they remained poor. He died in 1841.
While there is some controversy about the fact that FitzGibbon did not mention Laura in his official report, he later wrote memos detailing Laura's contribution and those of the warriors so they would be recognized for their part in the successful action.
For example, in 1827 he referred to Laura in a letter:
"The weather on the 22nd day of June, 1813 was very hot, and Mrs. Secord, whose person was slight and delicate, appeared to have been and no doubt was very much exhausted by the exertion she made in coming to me, and I have ever since held myself personally indebted to her for her conduct upon that occasion..."
But Laura didn't receive official recognition of her bravery until 1860, when she was 85. That year, the Prince of Wales visited Canada and Laura presented him with a package detailing her contribution. Upon his return to England, the prince sent her 100 pounds sterling for her deeds.
Laura died at the age of 93 and is buried next to her husband in Drummond Hill Cemetery, Niagara Falls, Ont.