Heroic Legacy

Prospecting philanthropist honoured for rescuing trapped miners.

Written by Marianne Helm

Posted July 15, 2019
Paint of a woman with her hair in an updo.

Ellen “Nellie” Cashman was many things: a businesswoman, a nurse, a cook, a philanthropist, and a gold prospector. Thanks to the actions of a dedicated group of heritage cemetery preservationists, more Canadians will also know her as a hero.

In the late 1800s, Cashman rescued seventy-five gold miners suffering from scurvy and starvation who were trapped in a snowstorm at Dease Lake, B.C.

Recently, the Old Cemeteries Society of Victoria and Dr. Patrick Perry Lydon, chair of the Nellie Cashman Committee, raised money for a memorial stone to be placed at her gravesite in Victoria’s Ross Bay Cemetery.

“The whole purpose of the Nellie Cashman Project was to advance and publicize the name and the legend of this wonderful woman,” Lydon said.

After escaping the poverty of Ireland’s potato famine, Cashman travelled and worked throughout the United States and Canada.

In 1875, while in Victoria, she received word about the trapped miners at Dease Lake, an area she knew well from her prospecting days. Cashman organized and led a six-person rescue party into the mountains, braving deep snow and frigid temperatures and even surviving an avalanche that swept away her tent.

On the seventy-seventh day of their trek, Cashman and her crew found the sick gold miners. She nursed them back to health, saving their lives.

Cashman continued to travel and to work, eventually making her way back to Victoria. She died in 1925 at St. Joseph’s Hospital.

In 2015, Cashman was honoured with a monument in her home county of Cork, Ireland. In Canada, Lydon said, Cashman’s heroic deeds have been largely forgotten — but he is determined to rectify the situation.

The memorial gravestone, unveiled on October 18, 2017, was placed in advance of 2025, the one hundredth anniversary of her death.

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History Makers is a celebration of community-based history initiatives across Canada. This project was shortlisted for the Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Community Programming.

This article originally appeared in the August-September 2019 issue of Canada’s History.

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