Once Upon a Time: Why did Dr. Secord go south

For 50 years Kincardine’s well-loved Dr. Secord was the town’s family doctor, “devoted to benevolence and charity”, as his tombstone says. Yet he travelled to the U.S. Deep South as the Civil War loomed and served as a surgeon in the Confederate Army. It remains an enduring mystery why he did so.

Dr. Secord (Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre, A2019.075.022, R.J. Merritt)-For larger view, click on image

Solomon Secord (1834–1910) was born by Burlington Bay, near Hamilton, a child of the famous Secord family—he was a grand nephew of Laura Secord, who warned the British about American plans for a surprise attack during the War of 1812.

He came to the Bruce in the late 1850s as Dr. Secord, practicing medicine for a short time in Walkerton, then moving to Kincardine. He spent time away only twice: four years in Georgia in the early 1860s, and a year in Sedalia, Missouri, in the late sixties.

It is his first absence which has generated a controversy. Here are the facts, as recited in his obituary in the Kincardine Review of April 28, 1910.

Against his father’s wishes he travelled to Georgia just before the start of the Civil War. When war broke out in April 1861 he signed up as a surgeon in the Confederate Army. He was captured by the Union Army, held hostage for several months, escaped and returned to his position as Surgeon-Major, in charge of hospitals. He resigned (in late 1864) and returned home.

The obituary makes one thing clear: “The doctor was an abolitionist and, having the courage of his convictions, he said so, and that was a dangerous thing to do in a southern state. He was arrested and tried. The proceedings were wholly irregular and unauthorized by law but each district was a law unto itself in those days. Few men ever escaped hanging as narrowly as did Dr. Secord at that time, but he had some friends there who armed to prevent it. Although an abolitionist he served as a surgeon in the Southern army during the whole course of the war. He was enrolled in the 20th Georgia Regiment.”

It’s not clear why Dr. Secord went south. One theory is that he had relatives in Georgia he wanted to visit, possibly to rest up from a spell of ill health.

In any case, Secord returned to Kincardine and stayed until he died on April 24, 1910. Four days later the Kincardine Review published his obituary, “The last words of Solomon Secord, M.D. of Kincardine, who passed away on Sunday morning after a life of hard work and kind deeds.” The Review called him “one of the best-known physicians in Bruce”.

Secord memorial (Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre, A2014.008.0401, Frank J. Lee)-For larger view, click on image

His monument in Kincardine Cemetery is inscribed, “Erected by his friends to a man who was unalterably opposed to all forms of insincerity, cant and hypocrisy. He loved children and animals and was rich in all the things worth while. His life was devoted to benevolence and charity and he still lives in the affection of the people.”

In addition, a grateful citizenry donated over $700 for a granite memorial topped by a sundial, to be placed in the town square.

Its inscription, now controversial, reads, “To Solomon Secord, 1834-1910. Our family physician for 50 years. This memorial was erected by his loving friends. Served as surgeon with the Southern Army during the American Civil War. All that lived he loved, and without regard for fee or reward, he did his work for love of his fellows.”

In spring 2023, during the reconstruction of Queen Street, the Secord memorial was removed from outside Kincardine library and put in storage. It can’t be returned to its original location, so the question is whether, and where, to reinstall it.

That revived an issue which first surfaced in 2018 when a resident asked council to remove the memorial, but was denied.

The issue seems to be that the sundial monument says Dr. Secord served in the Confederate Army, implying that he approved of slavery, given that the Confederacy was in favour of slavery.

Some people take exception to that wording and would ban the monument. Others object to permanent removal as being disrespectful to Secord’s service and as constituting erasing or denying history.

There is no dispute that the doctor served on the Confederate side in the Civil War. A few hundred Canadians did fight in the Confederate army but most—about 40,000—joined the Union Army (many already lived in the U.S.). However, Dr. Secord was not a soldier. As a doctor he was classified a non-combatant.

The town has hired a consultant, Dr. Laura Mae Lindo, to gather community input on the fate of the Secord memorial.

An online survey closed on March 31, 2024. Interviews of community groups took place in April and community meetings in May. Council will decide the monument’s future in August. For a background document, see “www.kincardine.ca/Secord”.


by Robin Hilborn for Bruce County Historical Society