Encyclopedia Womannica

Explorers & Contenders: Kate Rice

Episode Summary

Kate Rice (1882-1964) was a Canadian prospector who joined the gold rush at a time when women weren’t even allowed to own land. She was the second woman ever inducted into the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame.

Episode Notes

Every weekday, listeners explore the trials, tragedies, and triumphs of groundbreaking women throughout history who have dramatically shaped the world around us. In each 5 minute episode, we’ll dive into the story behind one woman listeners may or may not know -- but definitely should. These diverse women from across space and time are grouped into easily accessible and engaging monthly themes like Pioneers, Dreamers, Villainesses, STEMinists, Warriors & Social Justice Warriors, and many more. Encyclopedia Womannica is hosted by WMN co-founder and award-winning journalist Jenny Kaplan. The bite-sized episodes pack painstakingly researched content into fun, entertaining, and addictive daily adventures.

Encyclopedia Womannica was created by Liz Kaplan and Jenny Kaplan, executive produced by Jenny Kaplan, and produced by Liz Smith, Cinthia Pimentel, Grace Lynch, and Maddy Foley. Special thanks to Shira Atkins, Edie Allard, and Luisa Garbowit. Theme music by Andi Kristins. 

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Episode Transcription

Hello! From Wonder Media Network, I’m Jenny Kaplan. And this is Encyclopedia Womannica.

Today’s explorer was a Canadian prospector who joined the gold rush at a time when women weren’t even allowed to own land. She was the second woman ever inducted into the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame. Let’s talk about Kate Rice. 

Kate Rice was born to a prominent Canadian family in 1882 and grew up with a love for nature. Kate’s father encouraged this passion by reading her stories about famed explorer Daniel Boone and teaching her how to canoe, camp, and shoot.

Kate’s parents also  instilled a love of education in their children, and in 1902, Kate began studying Math, Astronomy and Physics at the University of Toronto. At the time, it was unusual for  women to study these subjects. Kate graduated in 1906. . 

Kate began her career as a math teacher, but spent her vacations in the wilderness.  She would often accompany her brother Lincoln on mountaineering excursions. In 1911, they climbed the Canadian Rockies together—a feat that earned Kate a membership in the Canadian Alpine Club. 

Homesteaders were settling in northern Canada, and in 1912, Kate decided to to join them. She moved to The Pas, Manitoba, but was required to list the claim under her brother’s name, since Canadian women were not allowed to own property until 1929. 

The Pas was home to a new gold rush, and Kate spent all winter reading geology books and teaching herself how to prospect. She befriended the local Cree and learned their language. The community showed her the ropes of hunting, dog mushing and trapping animals.  

In 1914, Kate got some money  from a friend and traveled north with the help of a Cree Guide. 

But the wilderness came with real hazards, especially in the long, cold winter. After several years of prospecting alone, in 1916, Kate joined forces with retired British Army Officer Dick Woosey. Together, they built a cabin on Wekusko Lake. Their relationship drew suspicions of romance—but Kate maintained that the relationship was strictly professional. 

Kate was considered very beautiful and had experience fending off men who were interested in more than business. 

She never married, but Kate and Dick built a strong partnership in the wild. They trapped animals for food, fished and prospected across many sites in Manitoba. Eventually Dick struck gold at Herb Lake and became known as the “father of the Herb Lake Gold Rush.”  

Kate found many veins of nickel and copper ore and in 1928, she formed the Rice Island Nickel Mining Company.

It’s said that Kate was offered $500,000 for her nickel claims, but turned it down in the hopes that the offer would double. When the buyer walked away, Kate was left to sell her land for only $20,000. 

During this time, Kate was featured in the news for breaking gender norms. Headlines read “Lure of the Out-of-Doors Led Girl To Rich Claims” and “Ontario Girl Winning Out as Pioneer and Prospector.” The articles discussed her shooting prowess and love for traveling to places untouched by man. 

In 1940, Dick died unexpectedly. Though Kate was greatly affected by his death, she continued to prospect, hunt, and garden on the island they once shared. She wrote for The Toronto Star and published research about meteorological and astronomical observations.

In 1962, after years of living alone in the wilderness, Kate began to worry about her mental state. According to legend, she buried her money and checked herself into a psychiatric hospital  where she declared herself insane. Some sources say that after observation, the doctors concluded that Kate was not mentally unstable, but rather “just a prospector.” 

Kate spent the last days of her life at a nursing home and died penniless in 1964. She was buried in Minnedosa in an unmarked grave. 

At a time when she didn’t really have full rights under the law, Kate Rice made a living as an accomplished prospector with several discoveries to her name. 

Kate maintained that “if women could understand the thrills of prospecting there would be lots of them doing it.,” and said, “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.”

All month, we’re talking about Explorers and Contenders. On Sundays, we’re taking a break from our normal episodes to highlight women we’ve previously covered who did amazing things in healthcare. For more on why we’re doing what we’re doing, check out our Encyclopedia Womannica newsletter, Womannica Weekly. 

You can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram @EncyclopediaWomannica and you can follow me directly on twitter @jennymkaplan.

Special thanks to Liz Kaplan, my favorite sister and co-creator.

Talk to you tomorrow!