Thursday, November 24, 2011

Laura Secord Country

Laura Secord's House in Queenston 
This is a familiar scene to anyone on the trail of Laura Secord. She and James and their family moved here in 1803, shortly after their third daughter, Harriet, was born. They'd lived in St. Davids for the first few years of their marriage.

The Secords lived in the Queenston house until 1835 when Laura and James moved to Chippawa. The Laura Secord Candy Co. bought the house in 1969 and after restoring it, donated it to the Niagara Parks Commission. The NPC maintains the homestead as a tourist attraction. During the War of 1812 Bicentennial celebrations in 2012-2014, this will be the scene of numerous events.

Scene of the Niagara River from Queenston Heights
The first thing I wanted to do after arriving in Queenston early in November was to take the short drive (four miles) to St. Davids. I wanted to see where Laura went on the first leg of her walk. She left her house before dawn on June 22, 1813 to walk to Beaver Dams and warn the British of the Americans' plan of attack. She apparently took "a circuitous route" to St. Davids, wanting to avoid any American sentries on the road. I could imagine her staying down where the land is low, below the escarpment. 

Also at Queenston, where we saw Mackenzie's Printery, we toured the park atop the Niagara Escarpment, Queenston Heights, and saw Brock's Monument as well as the one to Laura Secord. I was amazed at the height of the escarpment which Laura had to climb in order to find her husband, James, who had been seriously wounded in the Battle of Queenston Heights on October 13, 1812. That was no small feat.

Sculpture of British General Drummond at site of Battle of Lundy's Lane   
The second day of our tour we visited Lundy's Lane where the bloodiest battle of the War of 1812 was fought, and where both Laura and James are buried in the Drummond Hill Cemetery.

 After a picturesque drive along the Niagara River, we arrived in Chippawa, the village that became the Secords' last home. James was the customs collector here from 1835 until his death in 1841. The lived in the Customs House, but later Laura bought a small house on Bridgewater Street, now a private residence. She died at home in 1868, a grand old lady of ninety-three.

I'll tell you the whole story in Laura Secord, Heroine of the War of 1812. Look for it in stores in June, 2012!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Tracking Laura Secord

View across the Niagara River from Niagara-on-the-Lake
Last week we were in the Niagara peninsula, on the trail of Laura Secord, the subject of the biography I am working on. I wanted to spend some time in the locales that would have been familiar to her, to soak up some of the atmosphere. I believe it worked: I do feel as if I know her a little better.

Display case at the Niagara Historical Society Museum
We arrived in Niagara-on-the-Lake on an almost summer-like afternoon. The trees that lined the streets were shedding leaves the colour of gold, and one could smell the oak as we walked along the sidewalks.
At the wonderful Niagara Historical Society Museum in the town I found a display of some of Laura's personal possessions: a copper kettle where she is said to have hidden some doubloons from the Americans, a coverlet, handmade by Laura and her granddaughter, a small trunk, some teaspoons, some sugar tongs, and other small items.

This museum also has an extensive collection of artifacts from the War of 1812, and since that was the backdrop for much of Laura's story, I found it most interesting.

I was delighted to find in one alcove in the museum a sculpted bust of Laura, a smaller version of the one that sits atop her monument in the cemetery in Lundy's Lane.
Bust of Laura Secord by Mildred Peel

Because we arrived on a week day, historic Fort George was not open this time of year, but we did stroll around the property and take a few pictures. All along the scenic Niagara Parkway people were walking, cycling, and basking in the early November sunshine.
Fort George, Niagara-on-the-Lake

Now, onward up the river to Queenston. Stay tuned!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Pictures from Book Launch

Here are a few pictures (in no particular order) taken at the launch of my latest book, Mary Pickford, Canada's Silent Siren, America's Sweetheart. 

My cousin and two of my three sisters came to congratulate me after the launch. It was great to see them.
After viewing one of Mary Pickford's silent movies, The New York Hat, the crowd heads to the refreshment table and the line-up along the far wall where they wait for me to autograph their books.

 This is me, reading one of the sections I chose from the book. I was thrilled at the size of the turnout, and sorry for those who ended up having to stand. Thank you to everyone who came to show their support, and to the Quinte West Public Library (Trenton) for hosting the event. Book sales were handled by Kathy Collins from J&B Books in Trenton.

The book is available from your favourite book store. If you don't see it on the shelf, they're happy to order it for you.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Book Launch Success

Mary Pickford, Canada's Golden Girl
On Saturday, November 5 at the Trenton Library we launched Mary Pickford, Canada's Silent Siren, America's Sweetheart in fine style. I couldn't have asked for a better turnout.
We had expected about twenty-five (with my fingers crossed!), and we easily doubled that number, having to set up extra chairs. In the end, it was standing room only. Obviously, Mary Pickford still draws a crowd!

This is the way the program went. After a brief introduction I read several short selections from the book, tossing in a bit of necessary detail in order to link the pieces. A few questions and a bit of discussion followed.

Afterwards we showed The New York Hat, one of Mary's short silent films, available now on YouTube. It proved to be a big hit, with plenty of chuckles over the rather predictable plot. It is, after all, almost 100 years old. The film is considered to be one of Mary's best shorts, and was the last one she made for Biograph. It proved to be a good example of Mary's acting style, the way she used subtle, natural body movements.

The library generously provided the crowd some light refreshments while they stayed to chat, and I was kept busy autographing books and smiling for the camera. 

So, the book is now officially launched! Go, Mary!