Kathleen "Kate" Rice; her name and exploits have long been a part of local lore, however, thanks to MaryAnn Mihychuk, many others throughout Canada will soon become familiar with her inspiring story. After hundreds of hours of research, performed with the help of dozens of analysts over a two-year, Mihychuk has accomplished a goal she set for herself upon taking the position of Community Development Officer (CDO) with the Town of Snow Lake. She has secured induction into the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame for the "Lady of the Lake."
Kathleen Creighton Starr Rice will be inducted with full flourish and formality into the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame at a dinner and ceremony which will take place at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto on Jan. 16.
Rice was born in 1883 at St. Marys, Ontario. Schooled there, she graduated from the University of Toronto in 1906, with a bachelor of mathematics degree. She taught school in Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Alberta before trading her books for a pickaxe and paddle and taking on the unlikely trade of a prospector during Northern Manitoba's gold rush.
Aided by local First Nations, she traveled by dog team and canoe through Manitoba and Saskatchewan; ultimately 800 kilometres north of The Pas to Reindeer Lake where she discovered zinc and vanadium in 1914.
After moving to the Wekusko Lake area, she staked gold claims along strike with the Rex, Kiski, and Bingo gold mines. In early 1920s, she formed a partnership with Richard "Dick" Woosey staking one of the first nickel properties in Manitoba the one that eventually lured Inco (now Vale) to the province.
They later formed a company to drill the claims, resulting in a high-grade discovery, valued in 1925 at $5 million. Rice was also an innovator, credited with introducing the use of borax crystals for determining metal type to the West.
Her intellectual curiosity was wide ranging, and covered topics as diverse as a scientific paper on the aurora borealis to plans for hydro-generation at Wekusko Falls. She was a journalist, an inventive dog trainer, a horticulturalist and a pioneer environmentalist with a deep appreciation of First Nations culture and knowledge.
Mihychuk, a former NDP mines minister in the Doer government, discovered all this and much more in her research on Rice, but it all started out when she asked a Snow Lake town employee to name some famous people in the area, thinking that there would be an opportunity to highlight them. Rice's name came up at that time. "It was embarrassing," Mihychuk said in light of what that conversation eventually led to. "I started an organization called 'Women in Mining' and we'd obviously been researching women and their involvement in the industry, and I had never heard of Kate Rice."
Mihychuk says that once she started to delve into Rice's life, she was captivated with this woman who left the wealth and comfort of her early life in eastern Ontario to eke out a living in the wilds of Northern Manitoba. She admits that it was part of her job to work on the Hall of Fame submission, but it is obvious that it was also personal.
"Kate Rice's story epitomizes the entrepreneurial, prospector's spirit," she said. "This was an individual who was so remarkable, who could have at any time gone back to being a well-cared for Victorian lady, but she had the spirit of discovery, which I think is also here in Snow Lake. And because her span was so large, I thought it was an opportunity for us to raise the profile of Snow Lake; it also fit in well with the mineral exploration, mining theme that the town wants to develop."
Two organizations sponsored the Hall of Fame nomination, the Town of Snow Lake and a group called Women in Mining, Manitoba (WMM). As it stands now, Snow Lake Mayor Clarence Fisher will represent the town at the event and Mihychuk, who is president of WMM, will represent their interests. Mihychuk says that WMM will likely send five or six people to the event and she hopes the town will also send a larger delegation.
The recognition will consist of a plaque that will be given to the family or their representatives. As well, the individual's history is placed in the hall with the many other mining legends. There is also a multi-media presentation that is made of each inductee's life and legend. Those interested would be able to see this at the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame display within the Royal Ontario Museum. There will also be copies of the display exhibited in Ottawa, possibly in Rice's hometown of St. Marys, and hopefully somewhere in her chosen home of Snow Lake. "She will be the second female ever to be inducted to the hall," said Mihychuk. "There are about 165 other individuals in the collection and Viola MacMillan is the only other woman." MacMillan was a mining financier from the Timmins Ontario area. She is credited with founding the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC).
As noted, a tremendous amount of research went into Kate Rice's life and it serves as the basis for her induction. Mihychuk said that institutions such as The Pas' Sam Waller Museum, Flin Flon's Station Museum, and Denare Beach's Northern Gateway Museum were invaluable in the process, as was the work that was done by Women in Mining. "We probably have the largest collection ever of information about Kate Rice through our work," said Mihychuk. "Once I got the bug, I would do it on weekends and evenings, whenever. It just becomes such a mystery to see if we could pull it all together."
Much of the research came from archives and newspaper articles from across the country, the United States, and even England. She and her researchers took the position that if information couldn't be substantiated with a third party, it required more work. Of everything they discovered, Mihychuk says the most surprising thing she found in the research was how broad Rice's knowledge base and expertise was. "This was a woman who was extremely intelligent," Mihychuk explained. "She was mystified by aurora borealis and wrote a scientific paper about it that was published (however, her hypothesis was refuted in later years). She had a degree in math, with a minor in physics, which was extremely unusual and she saw no boundaries. But the scope of her work was surprising. She had engineering and mathematics and studied geology and prospecting on her own, and she even learned Cree. It is just the more you learn about this individual, the more remarkable she becomes. But the most tragic part of her story was that in the end she was lonely."
Involved in geology and mining herself, Mihychuk says that Rice's history did have an amazing appeal to her as a woman in the industry. "But even beyond her gender, she deserves recognition for what she did, which was to explore on her own," said Snow Lake's CDO.
Asked how tough it was to get the induction, Mihychuk said that it was an enormous battle. She admits that initially there were a lot of naysayers, mostly because many prior inductees had found enormous mines. That put Rice at a disadvantage as her Rice Island deposit (although still held by Vale) was never developed. Mihychuk said having the Town of Snow Lake and Women in Mining on board, as well as a dozen or so endorsement letters certainly helped the cause. The Northern Miner, owned by Glacier Media of Vancouver, which also owns the Nickel Belt News, was also instrumental in the process. They had done a number of stories on Rice when she was prospecting and continued to be great supporters of her legacy. They also sit on the Mining Hall of Fame founding committee and Mihychuk says that the longstanding trade publication championed the submission.
In order to tout the induction, the Town of Snow Lake will organize a special event at the Manitoba Mining Convention in November and Mihychuk says that the Snow Lake Mining Museum is currently investigating sponsorship of the Mining Hall of Fame's multi-media display in Snow Lake. She says that they would also like to have a local celebration when the announcement of the induction or the induction itself takes place. As well, a "points of interest" display in all the locales that Kate stopped, taught, lived or stayed in her journey north, is contemplated. Moreover, the town would like to see a display on her included in the Manitoba Museum and they are trying to get Rice nominated as an official person of historic stature by Manitoba and Canada. Additionally, they recently made a submission to the Manitoba Historical Society website in order to update and make accurate the society's information on Rice.
Finally, the CDO says that the University of Winnipeg theatrical department is looking for funding to do a play about Kate Rice. "Her story has adventure, it has humour It would be a perfect script for Hollywood - Angelina Jolie as Kate Rice," said Mihychuk.