Laura Secord – Canadian Heroine or Chocolate Manufacturer?

Laura Secord homestead signToday’s agenda included a couple of quick tasks in Niagara followed by a drive to Queenston to check out a couple of Niagara Parks – The Laura Secord Homestead and MacKenzie Printery. To answer the title question, Laura Secord is both a Canadian Heroine and a Canadian manufacturer of fine chocolates, with the chocolate company being named after the heroine, and starting the business in 1913, commemorating the centenary of her accomplishment.

 Chores

We started with a couple of simple chores, or at least we thought they were simple – fax a document home and post a letter to the US. At dark o’clock, while the painfully slow park internet actually worked, I located a Staples for the fax and a post office. It’s Saturday, therefore we figured the main office would be closed so we went to the Dollarama just down the street. Seemed a strange choice, but that is the location and address from the website. Turns out the building used to be a Shoppers Drugmart and they did have a post office, but no longer. At home, a number of 7-11’s have them, so we tried the 7-11 across the road. Nope, they said try a Shoppers Drugmart. We punched “Shoppers Drugmart” into the GPS and starting with the closest drove to them sequentially until we located a Post Office, at the 3rd location. Then it was off to the Staples to send the fax. Two simple tasks took almost 2 hrs, but we did see most of the streets in Niagara Falls.

Finally, we get to play tourist, Queenston here we come.

Queenston

The Niagara Peninsula located between Lake Ontario and Lake Errie, was the scene of numerous battles and skirmishes during the War of 1812 between the British (Canada) and Americans. Queenston, located about 3 miles downriver (North) from the Falls was the location of the Battle of Queenston Heights in October of 1812, which resulted in the Americans assuming control of the area.

A quiet tree lined street in Queenston

A quiet tree lined street in Queenston

For adjacent communities, the contrast between Niagara Falls and Queenstown is substantial. The raging thunder and plumes of spray from the Falls is replaced by a quiet, tranquil and peaceful village. The streets are lined with trees and the sea of humanity walking the streets in Niagara is nowhere to be found. In fact, on arrival at the both parks we were only the 2nd vehicle in the parking lots. As can be seen from the photograph below, green space abounds throughout the small town.

 

 

Homes across from the printery

Homes across from the printery

Laura Secord (nee Ingersoll)

Our first stop is the Laura Secord Homestead where we joined an informative guided tour of the home and museum. The oldest child of Thomas and Elizabeth Ingersoll, Laura was born in Great Barrington, Province of Massachusetts Bay in 1775. In 1795, her father made application to Upper Canada for a land grant, receiving 66,000 acres in the Thames Valley, eventually starting a community now known as Ingersoll, Ontario.

Laura Secord homestead and museum

Laura Secord homestead and museum

Moving to Upper Canada in 1795, the family ran a tavern in Queenston, while clearing and developing their land.  When the family moved to their new land, Laura remained in Queenston, marrying local wealthy businessman James Secord in 1797. They lived in a home they built in St David’s Queenston, where they operated a store from the first floor.

Laura and James Secord Homestead in Queenston

Laura and James Secord Homestead in Queenston

James Secord joined the 1st Lincoln Militia fighting for the British against the Americans during the War of 1812. Badly wounded during the Battle of Queenston Heights in October 1812, he required Laura to spend many months nursing him back to health. Initially the war did not go well for the British and the Americans took control of the area, using the Secord home and others as lodging houses. Over hearing American officers discussing a planned attack on the British troops, Laura decided she had to assist the war effort and warn the British commanding officer. James, still incapacitated from his war wounds could not assist, so Laura set off on a 20-mile hike from their home to the British troops. On arrival, she advised Lt FitzGibbon of the American plans. The British troops and their Mohawk warriors set an ambush, decimating the larger American forces at the Battle of Beaver Dams.

On completion of the guided tour we walked through the informative museum, which expanded on a number of the points discussed during the guided tour.

Select here for a detailed route of her hike.

MacKenzie Printery

Restored MacKenzie home and print shop

Restored MacKenzie home and print shop

The MacKenzie Printery, also a Niagara Park, is a short drive from the Laura Secord Homestead. Therefore, both of these attractions can easily be visited in an afternoon, with sufficient time for detailed tours of both.

On entering the building we were met by Heather, a young lady who took our tickets and announced she would be our tour guide. She started immediately with the tour being a private affair for the 2 of us.

She started the tour with some historical information on William Lyon MacKenzie, originally from Scotland he was born in Dundee in 1795. He sailed to Canada in 1824, initially settling in Dundas prior to moving to Queenston.

Colonial Advertiser newspaper signDissatisfied with the Family Compact, the small group of officials who dominated the government and judiciary of Upper Canada, he was a leading member of the of the new Reform movement. In May 1824 he published the first copy of the Colonial Advocate, which was a leading voice of the Reform Movement. The weekly newspaper was initially produced from the his home and print shop in Queenston, however in the Fall of 1824 he moved his operation to York, now Toronto.

 

 

Below is a picture of a manual printing press, built in UK in 1761. This is the  press used for producing the Colonial Advocate.

Manual printing press built in UK in 1761

Manual printing press built in UK in 1761

The tour then continued into the museum covering a number of printing machines used throughout the years. Printing was initially a very labour intensive and slow process with each letter being manually set to generate a page. Hence the reason newspapers were only a few pages, or only published weekly, as it took that long to create each page. The Linotype machine revolutionised the print industry when introduced by the New York Tribune in 1836.

Judi at the Linotype machine

Judi at the Linotype machine

Linotype machine

Linotype machine

The next machine Heather discussed and let us try was for proof reading. The frame is substantial, as that roller weighs a hefty 300 lbs. However, it was easy to roll back and forward.

Proof reading machine with 300 lb roller

Proof reading machine with 300 lb roller

Next we headed to the basement where they keep the old type set letters, literally thousands in various fonts and font sizes, both Upper Case and Lower Case letters. Heather discussed the origin of the term Upper/Lower case letters, as it stems from the boxes used for storing the letters – capital letters were stored in the top, or Upper Case and regular letters in the lower case.

Drawers of individual type in various fonts and sizes

Drawers of individual type in various fonts and sizes

Here are some of the old company logos used in manual typesetting.

Company logos used in printing

Company logos used in printing

The final stop on the tour was interactive, where we actually practiced type setting our names and Heather then applied it to a page and printed us a test page.

Judi creating our name in type-set

Judi creating our name in type-set

Wow, what a great couple of hours. Both places we visited today are operated by Niagara Parks, a self funded organisation that receives no government funding. If both of these activities are indicative of the quality, we will definitely be visiting others during our days in Niagara Falls.

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