Welcome to Schubert Centre

3505 30th Avenue Vernon
BC. Canada V1T 2E6

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Catherine Schubert

The facility is close to public transit and has free off-street parking. It’s wheelchair accessible and easy for everyone to access.
Find schedules and maps for how to reach the Schubert Centre online at BC Transit or over the phone at 250-545-7221.

Catherine Schubert

The First Woman Overlander

“We were almost dead of starvation when we came across what seemed like an Indian Village.”
Catherine Schubert Reminisced to her granddaughter Corinna in 1915. “We went up to it to get food and found it was deserted, so we dug up many potatoes from a garden that was there and headed back to our raft. Later we found that the whole camp had died from Smallpox. For four cruel days on the raft with icy winds freezing us, we crouched under blankets and ate raw potatoes.”

In the 1860’s the discovery of gold in British Columbia’s Cariboo country was trumpeted in newspapers from Canada to Europe and beyond. Thousands of men – and a very few women – hastened by ship to Victoria and up the Fraser River, then by foot or horseback over trails and new roads to the gold diggings deep in B.C.’s mainland.

In 1862, some gold-hungry souls decided to venture by land from the Interior Canada, determined to reach the gold fields by crossing prairie and mountains. Their plans did not include a 27-year-old Irish immigrant woman with three small children. Yet, by force of personality and sheer determination, Catherine Schubert – concealing a four-month pregnancy beneath her full skirts – claimed a place in the company alongside her husband Augustus. Though the trek took 19 weeks instead of the intended eight, she did not falter, gathering high praises as the first non-native woman to cross overland to B.C.

Catherine came to the United States from Ireland when she was 15, then met and married Augustus. In early 1862. The Schuberts and their three children were living on the banks of the Red River, chased north of the U.S. border by their fear of the Sioux. In May, when Overlanders began streaming into the nearby fur-trading post of Fort Garry, Augustus decided to join the rush for gold.

Feisty Catherine insisted she go along, spurning the traditional role of stay-at-home wife and mother. “She was a brave woman, gallant and spirited Irishwoman who could not be daunted by the dangers ahead”, recalled her adult son James in a 1929 interview; he grew up on stories of the journey he made as a two-year-old. “If Father was going to face them then she was going to face them as well.”

The Schuberts hitched up their Red River cart and set off westward to join one of the groups of Overlanders, their old black cow trailing behind like a faithful dog. Although the group followed known trails across the Prairies, they made slow progress. They bogged down in swaps, cursed the mosquitoes, and spat out alkaline waters that tempered their thirst. It took seven weeks – almost as long as they had planned for their entire journey – to reach Fort Edmonton in what is now the province of Alberta.

Catherine Schubert was born Catherine O’Hare in Ireland in 1839 in a little town called Rathfrieland just outside Belfast. She left Ireland for England during the potato famine of 1849 to train as a maid of all work, and arrived, aged 16, in Springfield Massachusetts on a coffin ship – so – called because of the huge number who died en route to the New World.

She married Augustus Schubert, an Austrian and, it is said, a distant relation to the composer Franz Schubert. The couple settled in St. Paul’s until Augustus had a confrontation with local natives, resulting in the family’s hasty migration north to Canada’s Fort Garry on the Red River – known today as Winnipeg. There Augustus, Catherine and their three children built a farm.

We pickup their story in May 1862 when a paddler steamer came down the Red River. On it were 150 men, each intending to cross the prairies and the Rocky Mountains to the Cariboo Gold fields.

Augustus Schubert decided to join them. Said Catherine in her broad Irish brogue, “Well, if you’re goin’ to the gold fields with 150 merry men, me and the children are goin’ with ye.”

It was unheard of for a woman to make such a journey, particularly with three children under the age of six…and a fourth on the way. But Catherine feared the Metis uprising that was brewing in Fort Garry and, in any case, the journey was predicted to take a mere six weeks. Disguising her “delicate condition,” she persuaded the leader of the expedition, Thomas McMicking to allow her and the children to join the caravan of 75 Red River carts pulled by as many oxen.

But instead of six weeks, the journey took nearly six months.

First, they crossed the prairies in sweltering heat. Catherine’s main complaint, quoted in the journal of a fellow pioneer, was of the noise: the whining of the ungreased Red River carts, the lowing of the oxen, the neighing of the horses, the howling of the wolves and coyotes and the buzzing of hordes of mosquitoes.

Then came 11 days of solid rain, thunder and flooding rivers that had to be crossed on scows to transport the wagons. Catherine lost her front teeth when her horse reared as they crossed one torrent.

When they reached Cache Tete Jaune (Yellowhead) after trading their carts for packhorse to cross the Rocky Mountains, they found no factor and no food. The local natives suggested they abandon their journey down the Fraser River and take a little used overland route to Fort Kamloops.

The Schubert family and a few others took this route, while McMicking and the rest risked the fast-flowing Fraser and arrived in Fort George (Prince George) too late to prospect for any gold.

McMicking later wrote in his journal, “In performing this journey, Mrs. Schubert accomplished a task to which, but few women are equal…one which but few men would have the courage to undertake. By her unceasing care for her children, her unremitting and devoted attention to their every want, and by her never-failing solicitude about their welfare, she exemplified the nature and power of that maternal affection which prompts a mother to neglect her own comfort for the wellbeing of her child… “

Catherine Schubert gave birth to her fourth child, a girl, with the aid of two Schkwempk women, on her arrival in Fort Kamloops. Her daughter Rose was the first European child born in the Interior of British Columbia. The Schuberts finally settled on what is now called Schubert Road in Armstrong. They grew wheat and Catherine built a schoolhouse. Rose’s first husband Tom le Due was its first teacher. A seniors’ centre in Vernon and a statue in Kamloops, as well as various roads throughout the Okanagan, stand in honour of Catherine Schubert – described in Armstrong’s Memorial Park as “a brave and notable pioneer.”