A native of St. Marys, recognized by many as Canada’s first professional female prospector, is being honoured for what the Toronto-based Canadian Mining Hall of Fame describes as “her outstanding life and career.”
Kathleen Creighton Starr (“Kate”) Rice, who was raised in relative affluence in the iconic 236 Jones Street East home now occupied by the Smink family, moved to northern Manitoba after graduating from the University of Toronto in 1906, at first to begin a teaching career. But by the time she died in a nursing home in Minnedosa, Manitoba (after reportedly having come out of the northern bush to self-admit herself in the city of Brandon’s mental institution earlier in the decade), she had carved out a life of toil and triumph in the tough world of trapping, prospecting and digging for minerals in the province’s far north.
A ceremony will be held on Jan. 16, 2014 in Toronto to officially induct Rice among the other approximately 150 mining industry professionals already in the Hall.
“There are very few women in the mineral resources industry,” said MaryAnn Mihychuk, President of Women in Mining Manitoba, and former Manitoba Minister of Mines, in a news release earlier this week announcing the upcoming induction.
“Rice is only the second woman to be inducted into the museum. We are thrilled to see the industry recognize contributions of women like Rice, who had to struggle against so much more than the elements,” Mihychuk added. “Here was a woman who struck out on her own, and made her own destiny, even before women were legally persons.”
The 236 Jones Street mansion, in later years referred to as Ercildoune after the Scottish home town of a subsequent owner, was one of four grand homes built on the Jones/Peel/King/Elgin block by late 1880s grain merchant George Carter. The red brick beauty was a wedding gift to Carter’s daughter, Charlotte, when she married Henry L. Rice.
Background information about “Kate,” provided by Women in Mining Manitoba, states “Rice graduated from the University of Toronto with a BA in mathematics and physics, (and) taught school for five years before catching gold fever and moving to Manitoba in 1913. She proved up a homestead in The Pas (held in her younger brother Lincoln’s name, as women were not ‘persons’ at the time. Lincoln was actually attending university at the time) and spent winters studying geology and assessment reports.”
Reports suggest she had a fiancé during her years at U of T, but he died before she graduated. So, in the beginning, she struck out on her own. “After learning Cree and local bush skills, Rice prospected in Beaver Lake, Saskatchewan, drawn by news of a gold discovery.”
Before long, she found a partner — in business, but apparently in life as well (although there are no reports of children) — and settled in the Snow Lake region of Manitoba with Dick Woosey, a retired army officer.
“She discovered the first nickel deposits in the province, as well as various deposits of gold, zinc and vanadium in Northern Manitoba,” Women in Mining Manitoba relate. “However, she was more than a prospector; she was an innovator, credited with introducing the use of borax crystals for determining metal type to the West, an author of scientific journals, a journalist and a pioneer environmentalist with a deep appreciation of First Nations culture and knowledge.”
“We are so proud of our hometown hero,” says Snow Lake Mayor Clarence Fisher, in the news release.
Robert C. Wallace, the first head of the Department of Geology and Mineralogy at the University of Manitoba and Commissioner of Northern Manitoba, notes in the news release that he “knew of no other woman who had done the actual prospecting that she had done.” Her breakthrough discovery came after she staked 16 nickel and copper claims on Rice Island in the Wekusko Lake area in 1920 and 1922. She formed Rice Island Nickel Company in 1928 and became a national sensation as “Canada’s first woman prospector” and famously said “If women could understand the thrills of prospecting, there would be lots of them doing it…No woman need hesitate about entering the mining field because she is a woman — it isn’t courage that is needed so much as perseverance.”