The Overlanders & Catherine Shubert

Catherine Schubert was the first woman to cross Canada, traveling with her husband and three children with the Canadian Overlanders.

The period was the 1860's - the period of gold miners, rebelling natives, and squabbling politicians: a turbulent time in Canada's past. The caribou gold rush had just happened and the colonies were going broke as settlers left in search of riches. One group of these deserting colonists gained the nickname "The Overlanders." Consisting of prospectors with varying backgrounds, they met while traveling west and gathered together with the common purpose of journeying across country to the Caribou. Among the 220 men was one woman; Catherine Schubert.

The youngest of nine children, Catherine was born in Ireland in 1835, and sailed to the United States at the age of 16. While working in Springfield Massachusetts, she met Augustus Schubert, a German Carpenter, and married him in the same year. The new couple moved to St. Paul on the Mississippi River where they lived until a depression hit that area. They then packed up and moved to Fort Garry (now Winnipeg Manitoba). It was here that Augustus heard about the Overlanders and made the decision to travel with them. Catherine, now a mother of three young children and pregnant with her fourth, choose to pack up her family and travel beside her husband, becoming the first woman to journey across Canada.

The Overlanders began their trek in June of 1862, in Fort Garry. They bought shares in provisions and supplies and then boarded 100 red river carts, traveling in the ox-drawn wagons as far as Fort Edmonton. Here, nearly half of the group deserted the expedition, deciding the trip was just too dangerous. Catherine Schubert was among the 125 who decided to remain and continue on over the Rockies. They started out driving horses and cows in front of them, following the rough trails of past explorers and natives, but these trails eventually disappeared and were replaced by goat paths. Not being able to take the animals any further, the Overlanders were forced to set the horses free and turn the cows into jerked beef. Further up the mountains, they were also forced to drop all but the most necessary of luggage. Conquering the Rocky Mountains took more time then they had first expected, and by the time they reached Lillooet, they found themselves racing against winter. From Lillooet they continued to Tete Jaune Cache were there was a disagreement over which route to take. It ended by the group splitting into two, with most of the Overlanders building large rafts and floating down the Fraser River, to Quensel, and then onto Victoria. Catherine and her family decided to remain with the few who were to continue down the Thompson River. Faced with sever hardship, many of the Overlanders never made their destination.

Amazingly, Catherine and her family were among the living survivors of the expedition. Though half starved, she had beaten all odds by preserving her family alive. During the long trek, she had seen friends drowned, Indian villages destroyed by smallpox, and her three children terrified. She was supposed to have been settled before her fourth baby was born, but the mountains and waterfalls of British Columbia caused delays that no one had planned for. While still floating down the Thompson River, Catherine Schubert went into labor. Her group went ashore and Catherine was cared for by first nations women at the local Indian village. She eventually gave birth to her fourth child, Rose - a living testament to the determination and spirit of the little-known Canadian Overlanders.

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