Manitoba Prospector Kate Rice: Still making history – Thompson Citizen Editorial (OCTOBER 30, 2013)

The Thompson Citizen, which was established in June 1960, covers the City of Thompson and Nickel Belt Region of Northern Manitoba. The city has a population of about 13,500 residents while the regional population is more than 40,000. 

On Jan. 16, Kate Rice, the “Red Lady” and “Lady of the Lake,” also known as “Mooniasquao”(White Woman) by her Cree friends, will become only the second woman ever inducted into the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame in Toronto. For those of us here in Northern Manitoba, a land of “headframes, happiness and heartaches,” as the title of Jim Parres and Marc Jackson’s 2009 book goes, Rice’s induction is a very big deal.

After all, Inco came originally to Northern Manitoba as a result of her Rice Island copper and nickel claims, which were never developed but which Vale still owns today, although it would be the discovery on Feb. 5, 1956 of the Thompson ore body, known as Borehole 11962 – the so-called “Discovery Hole” at Cook Lake (later renamed Thompson Lake after Inco chairman John Fairfield Thompson for whom the City of Thompson is also named) that really got things rolling.

Viola MacMillan, mine finder and financier, as well as the driving force behind the transformation of the Prospectors and Developers Association from a small group of less than 100 to an organization of more than 4,000 internationally recognized association of professionals was the first woman inducted into the hall in 1991. Twenty-three years later, she will be joined by Kathleen Creighton Starr Rice, an original in every way that mattered.

She got her nicknames the “Red Lady” or “Lady of the Lake,” Herb Lake resident Stewart Bridgeman recalled in Headframes, Happiness, and Heartaches: The Mines of Manitoba, after he and a couple of his friends, Charlie and Buddy Bartlett, as kids, saw “something red coming across the lake, quite a ways out. Anyway, we kept on playing and would look up every once in a while. It kept getting closer and closer. Pretty soon we realized it was a person. Then we started laughing. Here it was Kate Rice and she had on a pair of bright red Stanfield underwear over top of her winter clothes.”

Rice was born into a well-to-do family who owned St. Mary’s Milling Company on Dec. 20, 1883 at St. Marys, Ontario. She graduated from the University of Toronto in 1906 as a gold medallist in mathematics and taught school in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta between 1908 and 1912 “before trading her books for a pickaxe and paddle and taking on the unlikely trade of a prospector during Northern Manitoba’s gold rush,” Jackson, who is also a veteran columnist with the Nickel Belt News and publisher of The Underground Press in Snow Lake says in his most recent column for us Oct. 25.

In 1912, Rice arrived in Northern Manitoba, just north of The Pas originally, to be a homesteader at first. Two years later, aided by Cree friends, she travelled 800 kilometres north of The Pas by dog team and canoe through Northern Manitoba and Northern Saskatchewan to Reindeer Lake where she discovered zinc showings and vanadium, a blue-silver-grey metal, in 1914.

Two more years on in 1916, she began what would become her longtime professional and personal partnership with retired British army officer Dick Woosey, who was two years older than her. Born in England in 1881, Woosey came to Canada at the age of 25. He had previously been a soldier in the British 18th Hussars Regiment and fought in the Boer War, as well as seeing action in India and along the Afghan border. Kate and Dick built a cabin in 1925 on an island on Wekusko Lake, near Snow Lake.

Rice staked Cu claim (34406) in 1922. She formed the Rice Island Nickel Company in 1928 and wanted to diamond drill the property. Rice was later offered $500,000 for the property but held out unsuccessfully for $1 million when the prospective buyer walked away from the deal. Eventually, she ended up with only $20,000 for it from the International Nickel Company Limited. Complex litigation involving Rice, Woosey and a third partner, C.E. Herman, arose from the Cu claim and adjoining Ni claim (35494), but Canadian Nickel Company Limited (CNCL) optioned the claims in 1948. Ground magnetic and electromagnetic surveys were made the following year. CNCL assigned the claims to the International Nickel Company Limited in 1958.

Woosey died in 1940 but Rice continued to live on Rice Island, writing, gardening, prospecting, fishing and trapping until 1962 when provincial authorities removed her from her home and briefly detained her at the Brandon Mental Hospital for Mental Diseases.

After two months of observation, psychiatrists concluded Rice was unconventional, not crazy, and she spent her last days at a nursing home in Minnedosa where she died penniless in 1964 and was buried there in an unmarked grave.

Marc Jackson led a drive in early 2009 to change that by publicizing the cause and raising funds so both Woosey and Rice finally got the recognition they deserved through proper headstones and marked graves in ceremonies honouring them on July 31 and Aug, 1, 2009 respectively at Lakeside Cemetery in The Pas, where Woosey’s grave for almost 70 years had been marked with nothing more than a wooden stake, while Rice’s final resting place in Plot #3, Block 58 the Minnedosa Cemetery was unmarked for more than 45 years.

 

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