Decew House, St. Catharines, Ontario

Decew House is named after its builder, John DeCou, who immigrated to Upper Canada from his birthplace in 1766 in Vermont. His parents were United Empire Loyalists. He married Catherine Docksteter, the daughter of Frederick Docksteter, a member of Butler's Rangers in 1798.

Together John and Catherine raised eleven children. John purchased land along the Beaverdams Creek, a tributary of the Twelve Mile Creek and built several mills which served the surrounding farmers.

John DeCou was responsible for building the first sawmill in the region. A short distance from one of his mills he built a two story house with limestone walls 66 centimetres (26 in) thick.

John Decou would eventually serve in the military during the War of 1812. In the spring of 1813 he was taken prisoner by the Americans. The fighting between the Americans had intensified and Catherine Decou was forced to flee with her family to the saftey of Burlington Heights (Hamilton).

During this time the house was occupied by a small group of Loyalist soldiers under the direction of Lieutenant James Fitzgibbon. In June of 1813, Laura Secord, was residing in the community of Queenston, Ontario. The area was infiltrated with American troops and Laura Secord happened to overhear plans by the Americans to overtake Fitzgibbon and his troops at Decou.

Laura Secord took it upon herself to make the arduous journey to DeCou to alert Fitzgibbons. To avoid detection by the patroling American troops Laura Secord chose an old Indian trail, that took her through the woods from Queenston to St. Davids, eventually Shipman's Corners (now St. Catharines), and eventually on to Decou House, a distance of about 32 kms, or apx 20 miles.

It is because of her actions that Fitzgibbons, alerted to the impending attack, was able to rally his men and make a decisive victory over the Americans. This victory would prove to be a positive turning point for the British in the War of 1812.

decew house c1950
Decew House as it appeared before it was destroyed by fire
in 1950. Today all that can be seen is the foundation.

John DeCou, although imprisoned by the Americans, managed to escape and continued on in the British military, seeing action at The Battle of Lundy's Lane.

After the War, he returned to his home where he continued to build the small community of Decew Hamlet. He became involved with one of his neighbours, William Hamilton Merrit, in a plan to divert water to their mills.

In so doing they formed The Welland Canal Company. However, when the canal was finally approved, it was decided to be built several kms away and would divert water away from DeCous mills. It would be a full six years before DeCou would receive any compensation for the demise of his businesses.

Dissillusioned by the entire affair in 1834 he sold his property and moved to Haldimand County to Decewsville, another community which he founded. John DeCou died in 1855 and is buried in Decewsville, Haldimand County.

In 1834 the house was purchased by David Griffiths and remained in the family until 1942 when the house and the surrounding property was purchased by the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario for the extension of the DeCew Falls generating station.

Most of the surrounding land was flooded to create Lake Gibson as a reservoir for hydroelectric power generation purposes. The house, although not in use continued to stand until 1950 when it was destroyed by fire.

The property is located on DeCew Rd., in St. Catharines, Ontario. Parking is free. A large bronze plaque, recording the history of the old house, was set into the back wall of the remaining structure. On October 13, 1953, the property was officially declared a historic site.