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GUEST COLUMN: ‘Laura Secord’ cottage one of our last old summer homes

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Randy Evans & Gary Shrumm

Maybe you’ve noticed it, an old-style cottage still standing at the corner of Lakeshore and Blackwell Side Road, abandoned and fighting a losing battle against the elements and surrounding housing development.

It has a story to tell.

The tale begins with Joanna and Joseph Smith, the first settlers of Blackwell, who bought the 41 acres known as Lot 36, Front Concession, in Sarnia Township in 1877.

Over the next half-century the Smiths would sell off portions of their land. One of the purchasers was Susan Brown, a widow from Ailsa Craig with four children.

Mrs. Brown had good reason to lay down ties in Blackwell. Her daughter Mildred had just married Harvey Smith, the son of the pioneers, and Mildred would be living there.

It’s important to note Blackwell was then an isolated community. Though Blackwell Side Road was opened in 1874 it still had just 14 homes along its entire length by 1912. And what is now known as Lakeshore Road was just a trail and didn’t become a road until 1918.

Fortunately for Blackwell, though, it was a stop on the Grand Trunk Railway line that ran between St. Marys and Point Edward. And importantly for the Brown family, Ailsa Craig was another stop on the same line. (Harvey Smith would be Blackwell’s last stationmaster).

It was into this scenario that Mrs. Brown had the cottage built, sometime between 1917 and 1922. Thus began a family tradition of summers spent by the Lake, a tradition that continued for four generations of the Brown-Smith clan.

The cottage had an attached sign that read “Laura Secord.” It’s not known why the builder did this, but for passersby the name became a ready identifier.

The cottage itself is small and modest. It housed a kitchen with an icebox, a large dining room table, a living room area and two bedrooms. The porch included an extension of the living room as well as an eating area.

Later, another small building was built behind the cottage. It once housed a small confectionary store run by Fred Smith while he was a student en route to medical school. Later, the second building became where the kids slept.

The back addition also housed an indoor toilet, which replaced an original two-seat outhouse that would get pushed over by Blackwell hooligans each Halloween.

Painted a pale yellow with brown trim, the Laura Secord cottage was a typical example of Lake Huron summer cottages of the era. Though small in size, it possessed the warmth and tranquility that is singular to cottage life.

The simple comforts are more than adequate when your day includes a sandy beach, woods to roam, friends to enjoy, and a pace of life unburdened by a timetable.

The cottage was last used in 1999 and today the lot is being prepared for new homes.

But the memories remain fresh for the family.

“We all loved our summers at the Laura Secord cottage,” said Susan Hilborn Burns, speaking on behalf of siblings Bill Hilborn and Jane Hilborn. All of them are great grandchildren of Joanna and Joseph Smith and Susan Brown.

As for the Laura Secord sign, it still hangs proudly in Mrs. Burns’ home.

Randy Evans & Gary Shrumm are regular contributors to The Journal

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