On October 18, Canadians celebrated the Famous Five’s 1929 victory in the Persons Case, which legally established women as persons. Thirteen years earlier, women in Manitoba went to the polls for the first time. The suffragettes’ accomplishments set an incredible example for young women in politics, and pushed Canada toward equality and inclusiveness. It’s during Women’s History Month that we reflect on the extraordinary women who made Canada a better place.
While the Famous Five were working in political life, another woman – Kathleen (Kate) Rice – was setting a different example in Northern Manitoba. Kate was a trailblazer, an entrepreneur, homesteader, scientist and tireless advocate for the north. As a young woman, she graduated from the University of Toronto, and became a professor of mathematics at several colleges across Canada. In 1911, Kate quit her job to become a homesteader. Under her brother Lincoln’s name, she purchased a homestead just north of The Pas.
Kate was an exceptional geologist and business women. She formed close relationships with the local Cree, whose expertise and companionship would keep her alive in the north. An expert marksman, Kate’s rifle kept her full through the winter, after the preserves from her garden had run out. By the early 1920’s, her hard work and the expertise of the local Cree had yielded results in rich nickel and copper claims in Northern Manitoba. Prospecting pushed Kate 800km north of The Pas, where she claimed prospecting rights across Northern Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
Kate also ventured east, onto Toronto’s busy Bay Street, and secured financing for her Rice Island Nickel Company. She became famous – her incredible story and her scientific articles on meteorology and astronomy attracted attention from Vancouver to Halifax. In Toronto, Kate attracted investment from Inco. to Northern Manitoba. Inco.’s successful nickel mines founded the city of Thompson, now the largest city in Manitoba north of Winnipeg.
This month, we remember the women who contributed to Canada and inspire today’s young people. We remember the Famous Five, and the extraordinary strides they made for legal equality in Canada in the early 1900s. We also remember Kate Rice, an inspiration for entrepreneurs, adventurers and scientists. Before she could vote, she was dreaming of an independent life up north, and before she was a legal person she her dreams were reality. When we look back during Women’s History Month, we are also looking at the inspiration for Canada’s next great generation of female entrepreneurs, politicians, scientists, and adventurers.