Visitor Stories: By Judy Tipple

The adventurous life of Catherine O’Hare, Judy Tipple’s great-grandmother, whose journey took her from Co Down to the farmsteads of British Columbia in Canada, with many stops along the way as part of a group known as The Overlanders. As Canada celebrates it’s 150th anniversary as a nation, we look back to a time when Canada was still a vast wilderness.

SIXTEEN-YEAR-OLD Catherine O’Hare left her parents and eight older siblings in Rathfriland, Co Down to take a crowded ship across the stormy Atlantic in 1851. In Springfield, Massachusetts she became a servant in a wealthy home and taught herself to read from the many books in the home. She married German immigrant carpenter Augustus Schubert and they settled in the thriving town.

He was a restless individual and was attracted by the opportunities of the then-frontier town of St Louis so they moved west and established a store there. However the boom ended, local banks went broke, and unemployment rose.

That, and the unrest of the Native American population, prompted the Schuberts to depart for the Red River settlement in Canada. They arrived at an outpost of Fort Garry after a 900km trip through bitter winter weather across the trackless prairie.

The settlement was a farming community of native Métis, fur trappers and officers and servants of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Here the Schuberts again built a house, developed a productive farm and ran a liquor store in the front room of their home.

News of gold discoveries along the rivers of the frontier west of the Rocky Mountains prompted prospectors to travel to Fort Garry from the east and prepare to trek west as a group to seek their fortune. Augustus wanted to go with them but Catherine was determined to keep her family together and implored the leader of the 150-man expedition to allow her and her children to join the group.

‘The Overlanders’ of 1862 covered 5,700km to the gold fields by ox cart, horseback and on foot, taking four-and-a-half months. They forded rivers, waded through swamps, blazed trails through dense towering forests and finally rafted down the turbulent Thompson River.

Running out of food, they lived on berries and rose hips. Unknown to the group, Catherine was pregnant when they started their trek and gave birth to a girl on a bank of the Thompson River, aided by a native midwife.

The Schubert family, now with four children, wintered in Fort Kamloops, Augustus working as carpenter and Catherine as a cook for the Hudson’s Bay Company. They settled in Lillooet with Catherine successfully running a roadhouse and store and teaching the children of the area to read.

The family moved to Cache Creek so Augustus could continue prospecting for gold during the summers. Catherine became matron of the school there. Finally, Augustus became resigned to life as a farmer and they moved to the rich agricultural area of Armstrong in British Columbia.

After her death in 1884, Catherine was described as a woman of sterling character and unparalleled fortitude. Her staunch faith gave her a love of life and family, great determination and perseverance. With kindness and tolerance, she met all strangers with goodwill and generosity. I am proud to say that Catherine was my great grandmother.

Judy Tipple