Kathleen Creighton Starr Rice left the comforts and confines of Edwardian-era Ontario for the wilderness of northern Manitoba, where she found fame as a prospector and mining entrepreneur. Aided by local First Nations, her travels by dog team and canoe through Manitoba and Saskatchewan included an 800 kilometre trek north of The Pas to Reindeer Lake, where she discovered zinc and vanadium in 1914. After moving to the Snow Lake area, she staked gold claims along strike of the Rex, Kiski and Bingo gold mines. In the early 1920s, she staked the first nickel properties in Manitoba which lured Inco (now Vale) to Manitoba resulting in a high-grade discovery then valued at $5 million in 1925. She was 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 and plans for hydro-generation at Wekusko Falls. She was a journalist, an innovative dog trainer, a horticulturalist and a pioneer environmentalist with a deep appreciation of First Nations culture and knowledge.
Born and raised in an affluent industrial family in southern Ontario, Rice graduated from the University of Toronto with a BA in mathematics and physics in 1906. She taught school for five years before catching gold fever and moving to Manitoba in 1913. She established a homestead in The Pas (held in her younger brother’s name as women were not “persons” at the time) and spent winters studying geology and assessment reports.
After learning Cree and local bush skills, Rice prospected in the Beaver Lake area of Saskatchewan, drawn by news of a gold discovery. Following her first discovery at Reindeer Lake, she settled in the Snow Lake region with prospecting partner Dick Woosey, a retired army officer.
Rice earned the respect of her peers for staking the Starr claims along strike of several gold mines in the Snow Lake camp. Robert C Wallace, the first head of the Department of Geology and Mineralogy at the University of Manitoba and Commissioner of Northern Manitoba, noted that he “knew of no other woman who had done the actual prospecting that she had done.” Her breakthrough discovery came after she staked 16 nickel and copper claims on Rice Island in the Wekusko Lake area in 1920 and 1922. She formed Rice Island Nickel Company in 1928 and became a national sensation as “Canada’s first woman prospector” and famously said “If women could understand the thrills of prospecting there would be lots of them doing it…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.”
Rice’s first option offer from Ventures Ltd. was derailed by a lawsuit filed by her American joint-venture partner. The case dragged on into the 1930s, leaving Rice and Woosey with a 25% stake each. In 1948, Canadian Nickel Company Limited (CNCL) optioned the claims, then in 1950 renegotiated the option. Rice continued to pay the fees on the property till 1958 when CNCL’s options were assigned to Inco which then made a final payment. VALE still holds the mining lease. Rice’s story, like a rich ore vein, is once again being explored and valued.