The Ottawa Citizen by Shari Graydon 1 July 2013
It turns out that the recently promoted “scientific 7-minute workout” is not the best training for a 32-kilometre walk in the footsteps of the iconic Laura Secord. As much as it gets your heart pumping, a condensed routine of a dozen 30-second bursts of jumping jacks, pushups and lunges, barely interrupted by 10-second rest periods, fails to prepare your butt, thigh and foot muscles for the strain and pain of a demanding hike across the Niagara Escarpment.
Of course, Canada’s 1812 heroine made the journey without even the benefit of the 7-minute workout prep. But a little familiarity with the life of a homesteader in the early 19th century makes clear: Laura’s daily marathon of household duties may have positioned the gruelling slog as a welcome escape.
Consider that the work then classified as women’s included cooking, cleaning and childcare, supplemented by tending orchards, planting vegetables, raising chickens, milking cows and churning cream. In her spare time she spun thread, wove cloth and sewn clothes that she then washed — by hand — in the river — when it wasn’t frozen.
Moreover, by the time Laura overheard the American soldiers plotting to make a raid on the British troops and native allies charged with protecting the region, she already had five of her seven children, and a husband who had been seriously injured during the very war her heroic trek helped to win.
(I know what you’re thinking: no wonder the woman was slim. When would she have found the time to eat the necessary calories to replenish the ones she burned before breakfast?)
So maybe when she slipped out of the house that hot June morning in 1813 — even if it was to negotiate an epic trek in petticoats and footwear not remotely up to the task — she did so with a sense of relief.
Then again, maybe not: she had good reason to expect encounters with rattlesnakes, enemy soldiers and native warriors.
In contrast, my journey along much of the same route — or the closest approximation that sketchy historical records and present urbanization allows — was taken in the company of my strapping husband, who preceded me down the trail on high rattlesnake alert, carrying a backpack loaded with sandwiches, fruit and granola bars. Not to mention band-aids, mosquito repellent and topical Benadryl. (What can I say? The mosquitos like me and I’m a wuss.)
We had other even more critical supports not available to Laura, and I’m not talking about seriously-cushioned running shoes, GPS-equipped smart phones, or lightweight Mylar water bottles — although those were deeply appreciated. No, our additional advantage came in distinctive yellow cardboard boxes with convenient red carrying handles.
Well-acquainted with the cushy life of amateur historians and Laura Secord fans and descendants, the thoughtful organizers of the commemorative walk not only posted small signs on strategically located trees and telephone polls, they also supplied Timbits at four checkpoints along the route.
Having been among the first walkers to exit the Secord homestead near Niagara-on-the-Lake at precisely 6:20 a.m. on the Saturday, and driven to maintain an unreasonably quick pace in order to outwit our limited stamina, we had our pick of old-fashioned, chocolate and glazed doughnuts at pretty much every stop.
Despite this, two-and-a-half hours and 14 km into the journey, we dragged our aching bones onto the shuttle bus to skip the third leg of the walk through the paved streets of St. Catharines. (This decision was a wholly principled one motivated by our desire to stick to the forests, meadows and swamps in pursuit of a more authentic experience. The 4 p.m. massage appointments we’d had the prescience to book weeks earlier barely factored into it at all.)
The too-brief bus ride in between phases two and four gave us enough time to share a sandwich, and allowed us to complete the final two stages of the walk in record time, despite the pesky groans of a recently sprained toe and long-sensitive knee. By 11:30 a.m., we’d reached the storied ruins of DeCew House, where Laura had relayed her military intelligence to Colonel Fitzgibbon. Welcoming volunteers draped newly-minted Laura Secord medals around our necks, which we’ve been sporting ever since.
Our inspiring role model wasn’t half so celebrated in 1813. In fact, humble by nature and legitimately fearful of the retribution that might be visited upon members of her extended family by those on the conflict’s losing side, she was reportedly reluctant to speak of her feat for many years.
She only wrote of the role she played decades later when pressed by financial circumstances to seek a government pension.
The real honour for us, of course, was being among the thousand others who paid tribute to this most Canadian of heroines by walking even a portion of the often-challenging escarpment trail.
Shari Graydon is an author, the founder of Informed Opinions, and a member of the extended Secord clan.