Kate Rice was so brilliant she could have done anything, and her family was so wealthy she could have done nothing at all.
The adventurous, tough-as-nails beauty from southern Ontario set out for the rugged Manitoba wilderness 100 years ago with a shotgun and snowshoes in search of treasure.
She never struck it rich, but she did discover the first nickel deposits in the province and made headlines across the continent as Canada’s first “girl” prospector.
“Living in the middle of nowhere, depending solely on yourself … I know how hard it is to work in a man’s world,” says Toronto businesswoman Linda Rice, 60, who recently found the mining legend’s name on a branch of her family tree.
She says she can’t even imagine what life would have been like for such a woman a century ago. “I was gobsmacked … I was very excited that I was related to such a pioneer.”
She is so proud that she and her father will be attending a ceremony in Toronto on Thursday, where her ancestor will be formally inducted into the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame. Kate Rice died in 1963 at 80.
She is the second woman to be honoured by the mining industry. Viola MacMillan, a prospector in the 1930s and the driving force behind the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada, was inducted in 1991.
MaryAnn Mihychuk, president of Women in Mining Manitoba and a former provincial mining minister, lobbied for the past two years to get Rice into the hall of fame.
“There were all kind of roadblocks. Many people said she didn’t deserve it. She hadn’t found the mega-mine,” said Mihychuk. “But what she did in terms of social change and her vast experience … was just amazing.”
Kathleen Rice had been raised in St. Marys, a small town in southwestern Ontario, where her family owned a local mill. Her father taught her to camp and canoe, but also encouraged her studies. She majored in math at the University of Toronto, where she was awarded a gold medal.
First she worked as a teacher, taking jobs in towns in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta. But she made only half the salary of her male counterparts and wrote in her diary about how it was frustratingly unfair, says Mihychuk.
She got a taste for adventure after climbing mountains in Alberta and knew her future did not lie in a classroom. In 1912, she homesteaded near The Pas, Man., but because a woman was not legally considered a person, her brother had to sign the paperwork for the land.
Rice studied geology books and, by making friends with local aboriginals, learned to shoot, trap and speak Cree. She travelled the northern wilderness on her own, dodging dangerous rapids by canoe and navigating the bush by dogsled.
Rice was renowned in the area because she had such control of her dog team she never had to lash the animals.
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