Laura Secord (and Chocolate): Historical Books, Photos, Paintings and Ads from Our Special Collections
The name Laura Secord may make you think of either a Canadian woman who assisted the British in winning the War of 1812, or tempting chocolate treats.
Our Special Collections at Toronto Public Library have documents and paintings related to Secord and her role during the War of 1812. We also have advertisements for the sweets and chocolates some of you may have on your mind, especially during certain holidays. Many of these items are available on our Digital Archive Ontario website.
Laura Secord (1775–1868), born "Laura Ingersoll", was a heroine in the War of 1812. As the story goes, Secord overheard a planned attack by American troops on June 21, 1813. She then walked 20 miles out of American occupied territory to warn British forces of the impending invasion. This gave an advantage to British forces and their Mohawk allies, who repelled American forces at the Battle of Beaver Dams.
Her story has taken on mythic overtones in Canada. The tale has been the subject of books, plays and poetry — as well as a Heritage Minute video. Since her death, Canada has bestowed honours on her: schools named after her, monuments, a museum, memorial stamps, a memorial coin and a statue at the Valiants Memorial in Ottawa.
The Story of Laura Secord (1891)
This short account of Laura Secord’s trek was written by Sarah Anne Curzon, poet, journalist, editor, playwright and an original member of Canada's first feminist organization, the Toronto Women's Literary Club. Access The Story of Laura Secord on Digital Archive Ontario.
The Story of Laura Secord and Canadian Reminisces (1900)
This book by Emma Augusta Currie is considered one of the best of the early biographies. Access The Story of Laura Secord and Canadian Reminisces on Digital Archive Ontario.
We also have an interesting piece of promotion for Currie's book. The person who you are asked to write to obtain your copy is Mrs. J. G. Currie (1829–1913) of St. Catharines. She was a local author who founded the Women’s Literary Club of St. Catharines in 1892. She is also Emma A. Currie, author of the book. The flyer mentions a stone bust marking the resting place of Laura Secord which was erected by The Ontario Historical Society, a photo of which is shown in the next section.
Emma Currie, the author mentioned above, developed a life-long interest in Laura Secord. She petitioned to have a memorial erected at Queenston Heights, the site of the Battle of Queenston Heights in the War of 1812. This monument was in addition to the modest bust in the cemetery where Secord was buried at Niagara Falls. Below is a photo of the Queenston Heights monument (taken in 1911, ten years after its dedication) and a photo of the Niagara Falls monument (taken in 1922).
Creating the Queenston Heights monument was quite controversial. Members of the United Empire Loyalist Association felt that a monument should be much grander proportions than the modest bust in the cemetery at Niagara Fall. A Monument Committee was established, and in 1901 they published a paper titled "A National Monument to Laura Secord – Why it Should be Erected" (digitized copy available from Brock University Library). The paper, read by Committee President R. E. A. Land on October 4, 1901, solicited funds for the establishment of a monument. You can learn more about the monument and its controversy on the Friends of Laura Secord website.
Drawings of Laura Secord's homes
Laura Secord lived in a house in Chippawa (now part of Niagara Falls) and a house in Queenston (now part of Niagara-on-the-Lake). Below are a few illustrations of these homesteads by different artists. (Take a video tour of her Queenston homestead, courtesy of Niagara Parks.)
Drawing by Bernard J. Gloster
This is a pen and ink drawing by Bernard (Barney) J. Gloster (1878–1948). He was known as the Dean of Canadian press photographers. At the age of 12, he started working for the Evening Telegram. In the age before the widespread photography, his drawings frequently appeared in the newspaper. View more of Gloser's drawings on Digital Archive Ontario.
Painting by Owen Staples
This work is by Owen Staples (1866–1949), a Canadian painter, etcher, pastelist, political cartoonist and staff artist for the Toronto Evening Telegram for more than 60 years. He painted and sketched hundreds of works. View more of Staples' works on Digital Archive Ontario, including an illustration of kitchen utensils used by Secord.
Paintings by John Wesley Cotton
John Wesley Cotton (1869–1931) was the first Canadian artist to work extensively in coloured etching. He was best known for his landscapes of European cities and countryside and the works he created while living in Southern California during the years following World War I. View more of Cotton's works on Digital Archive Ontario, including "Where Laura Secord, on the 23rd of June 1813, Crossed the Twelve Mile Creek".
Advertisements for Laura Secord sweets
In 1913 a young entrepreneur named Frank O’Connor (1885–1939) decided to enter the candy business in Toronto. He wanted a name that would provide his shops with a wholesome image. And what better name was there to use than the beloved Laura Secord? Particularly since 1913 was the centenary of her historic walk. Her name was mentioned a lot at the time. He opened his first shop at 354 Yonge street and other stores quickly followed to form a chain. Below is an early advertisement for the sweets.
You will notice in the above advertisement that Secord is depicted as an older woman, which makes sense since at the time of her famous walk she was 37 years old. This image of Secord was used to sell chocolates for a long time. She was on all the boxes and store advertising. Her image in these ads looks similar to a painting held by Toronto Public Library.
By 1926 the chain had grown to 57 stores across Ontario and Quebec. There were also American subsidiary stores called “Fanny Farmer”. Frank O’Connor became a millionaire from selling Laura Secord candy and he was the world’s first candy manufacturer to share profit with his employees. He was an early investor in the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team and became a Canadian Senator in 1935. O'Connor Drive, east and south of the Don Valley Parkway in Toronto, is named after him.
Canadians loved Laura Secord Chocolates and the brand became an institution.
After the Second World War, the candy company decided to give the image of Laura Secord a facelift. At the time it was felt that “More-or-less authentic portraits of Loyalist goodwives do not sell candy.” So for better or worse, Laura was reimagined as a romantic young lady without the bonnet. A perusal of advertising in the Toronto Star seems to indicated this happened around 1952.
The company did seem to have a genius for marketing that made the company profitable for decades. One example is The Laura Secord Canadian Cookbook published in 1966 to mark Canada’s centennial. It was produced in partnership with The Canadian Home Economics Association and soon became a national staple: think Nanaimo bars, bannock and toutiere.
It is still possible to find Laura Secord candy although it is not around as much as in the past. It still tastes wonderful and I still get drawn in by the marketing.