Miss Kathleen Rice, Pioneer Legend
By Linda C Butler
Kathleen (Kate) Rice, a pioneer from the Snow Lake MB area was inducted into the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame in Toronto on Thursday, January 16, 2014. The credit for researching this woman and for finally getting her the recognition she deserves goes to MaryAnn Mihychuk, president of Women in Mining Manitoba. The award was accepted by Clarence Fisher, Mayor of Snow Lake.
My parents knew Miss Rice and I remember one time she was in our general store in Snow Lake and Dad pointed her out to me. I was a kid and never spoke to her, but I knew her as the reclusive woman who lived alone on an island. She is credited with finding the first nickel deposit in Manitoba.
Rice graduated from the University of Toronto in 1906 in Mathematics with honors. The U of T Magazine says that women were allowed to attend the U of T in the fall of 1884 after a provision was passed by the Ontario Legislative Assembly to admit women. Rice came from a well-to-do family and if she studied for four years, she would have enrolled circa 1902. She was awarded a gold medal for her studies.
There was little employment open to women when Rice graduated and she taught school in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta. She had excelled in her studies but she was only paid half the salary of male teachers. In 1912 she homesteaded near The Pas MB, but because a woman was not considered to be a person, her brother signed the documents for the land.
Manitoba entered Confederation in 1870 and only men were allowed to vote. The federal Election Act stated that “no woman, idiot, lunatic, or criminal shall vote”. WW1 broke out in 1914 and women played an increasingly important role in their communities. On 28 Jan 1916 Manitoba became the first province in Canada to allow women to vote and to be elected to a seat in the provincial house. (Reference: Manitoba Historical Society)
Rice longed for adventure and she studied geology and became friends with the local Cree and learned their language. She travelled alone by dogsled and canoe looking for gold and other minerals. She lived in a log cabin on an island near the ghost town of Herb Lake, close to Snow Lake MB. She grew and preserved produce from her extensive garden. She had a horse Billy, and then later bought Old Blue, a horse, from Majors. She required a horse for her gardening/small farm operation. She grew strawberries which she sold as U-pick and vegetables which she sold. My parents bought some of her vegetables to sell in their store.
Rice was fascinated by the northern lights which were reflected on the snow of the frozen lake. With her scientific and mathematical mind she developed theories about why northern lights were formed. We know today that northern lights are a result of collisions between gaseous particle’s in the earth’s atmosphere with charged particles released from the sun’s atmosphere. Rice’s theories on the origin of the northern lights were published and indicate an active mind continually searching for knowledge. Her ideas are interesting, even though they are wrong.
She had a prospecting partner, Dick Woosey, a retired British army officer. Woosey had a wife and children in the old country and divorce was not possible for average people in those days. If Woosey had been free to marry, perhaps they would have married, but they maintained separate residences and lived on adjoining islands. Woosey died in the 1940s.
Rice suffered in later years from mental illness, probably as a result of living alone for so many years. She became a recluse and ventured out only occasionally for groceries. She died in Minnedosa MB in 1963 at the age of 80.
(c) Linda C Butler 2014.