Most of Laura Secord's travels from Queenston to DeCew House were on former or existing aboriginal trails. York Road in Queenston follows the route of the ancient Iroquois Trail, one of the most important and widely used of the First Nations trails in Niagara. It was established by First Nations inhabitants long before European settlement. The Canadian section of the trail began just west of the Niagara River in present-day Queenston, and wended its way west to what is now the city of Brantford.
Laura Secord followed some of the most ancient and historic First Nations trails in Niagara during her famous walk. She also passed former Indian settlements and encampments, even though there would probably have been little evidence of this by 1813.
Laura started her fateful trek in Queenston and followed the old Iroquois Trail, the most direct route to St. David's. By that date the trail would have been widened and flattened by early settlers for stagecoach travel, and she might well have skirted the main road to avoid detection by American sentries. As she passed through St. David's, she would have unknowingly been passing the largest Native ossuary in Upper Canada, located about 2 km south of the village.
From St. David's she headed to the Ten Mile Creek, crossing at the village of Homer. Continuing along the old Iroquois Trail, she followed present day Queenston Street to St. Paul Street in Shipman's Corners - now St. Catharines. At Shipman's Corners she crossed the Twelve Mile Creek, a major waterway that the Natives used for canoe travel into the inlands of Niagara, and continued south on the west bank of the Twelve on another established aboriginal trail.
Laura's final crossing of the Twelve Mile Creek was at the foot of the Niagara Escarpment. At that time, the area contained a network of small trails used by Natives stationed at DeCew's Field for easy access to the Twelve Mile Creek, and for short cuts to ambush enemy detachments. It was on these trails that Laura Secord lost her way and stumbled upon a Native encampment at DeCew's Field.
Though her actual interactions with native peoples were limited, Laura interacted with First Nations history, settlements and trails throughout her entire journey.
The Iroquois Trail followed the base of the Niagara Escarpment and avoided difficult terrain and wide river mouths along the Lake Ontario shoreline, making it an express route to cross the peninsula.
When early European immigrants arrived in Niagara the Iroquois Trail was used for exploration and settlement of the central peninsula. On the east side of the Niagara River, the Iroquois trail extended its reach to Albany, New York. To the west it went as far as Detroit, Michigan.
The Niagara section of the Iroquois trail began in Queenston, a location where the Niagara River emerges from the deep cut of the Niagara River gorge. The river widens at that point, resulting in slower flow rates and easier navigation.
The approximate route of the Iroquois Trail, from Queenston to Brantford, Ontario (after Burghardt, 1991).
By 1785 the Iroquois Trail was widened to accommodate wagon travel. Its importance as one of Niagara's main east-west arterial transportation routes continued unabated for a century and a half, until the building of the Queen Elizabeth Way in 1939. The trail now bears many different names along its length. On the Canadian side of the Niagara River, it starts out as York Road in Queenston, continues as Queenston Street west from St. David's through Niagara on the Lake and into east St. Catharines, then becomes St. Paul Street at the intersection of Geneva. St. Paul Street West continues through the western part of the city and becomes King Street at the intersection of Ninth Street Louth.
In 1918, virtually the entire stretch of the Iroquois Trail was designated as Ontario provincial Highway 8,and remained the major highway across Niagara before the establishment of the Queen Elizabeth Way in 1939. In 1970, because of increased utilitarian use of the QEW for road transportation, the section of Highway 8 between Winona and Niagara on the Lake was downloaded to Niagara Region to become Regional Road 81, which it remains to this day.
The distinctive curving sweep of St. Paul Street through downtown St. Catharines is part of the legacy of the Iroquois Trail, which followed the natural contours of the landscape rather than the rigidly imposed north-south grids that categorize many other Ontario towns of the era. Many of the odd 5- and 6-way intersections in St. Catharines are as a result of the imposition of a similar grid pattern over the natural contours of the earlier roads.
Burghardt, Andrew,The Origin and Development of the Road Network of the Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, 1770-1851, in Annals of the Association of American Geographers. Volume 59, Number 3 (Hamilton, Ontario: McMaster University: September 1969). Available online at http://www.jstor.org/stable/2561724 .
Hughes, Alun.Rich Treasures at 'Thorold Site', (Thorold, Ontario: Thorold and Beaverdams Historical Society, 2003). Available online at http://www.tbhs.ca/hughes/treasure.html .
Jackson, John & Wilson, Sheila,St. Catharines: Canada's Canal City(St. Catharines, Ontario: The St. Catharines Standard Limited, 1992).
Merritt, Richard A. 1991. Early Inns and Taverns: Accommodation, Fellowship, and Good Cheer. Chapter 8 (pp. in Richard Merritt, Nancy Butler, Michael Power (eds). The Capital Years: Niagara on the Lake, 1792-1796. Dundurn Press, 256 pp. Available online in part at https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=gEUz5Fz4QWwC&lpg=PP1&pg=PA187#v=onepage&q&f=true
Regions of Niagara and Hamilton-Wentworth, Ontario, Canada