Strong Irish community ties could benefit the City of Armstrong.
Council unanimously approved investigating the formation of a sister city relationship with Rathfriland, a village in Northern Ireland, similar in size (about 3,000 people).
Rathfriland is also an agricultural community and the birthplace of Catherine Schubert, the first European woman to enter B.C. overland from Eastern Canada in 1862.
Schubert moved to Armstrong with her husband, Augustus, and their children to a farm on Round Prairie Road – still in operation today – in 1882, and died in Armstrong in 1918.
A memorial to Schubert stands in the city’s Memorial Park.
“A sister city pairing would mean a global relationship with another community,” said Armstrong Mayor Chris Pieper. “There is a lot of Irish heritage in Armstrong going back to Catherine Schubert. A lot of families tied to Armstrong are also tied to Ireland.”
A heritage society in Northern Ireland contacted the Armstrong Spallumcheen Museum in the 1980s to link Rathfriland with Armstrong as sister cities, but the idea was abandoned.
In July, Andrew Peters, owner of a promotional company in Ireland, contacted the museum again to further explore the opportunity.
A Skype date was held with Jessie-Ann Gamble and Maureen Karran from the museum and Armstrong Heritage Society, along with Pieper, Patti Noonan of the Armstrong Spallumcheen Chamber of Commerce and Armstrong deputy corporate officer Natalie Garbay.
“Peters looked at the possibility of twinning with Kamloops, because that’s where the Overlanders (who headed west to search for gold) landed, but Kamloops is too big and we’re about the right size,” said Gamble, who gave council a brief history lesson on Schubert and the prominent role she played in Armstrong’s history.
Catherine Schubert (née O’Hare) left Ireland at 16 to become a servant to a wealthy family in Springfield, Mass. She met Augustus Schubert and the two married in 1855, moving to St. Paul, Minn.
The couple moved to what is now Winnipeg when Augustus got wind of the gold rush in British Columbia, and became part of the Overlanders group that went searching for gold.
Catherine Schubert insisted she would not stay behind to look after three children, and accompanied the Overlanders.
Pregnant when the trip west started in 1862, Catherine Schubert went into labour on a raft going down the Thompson River. She gave birth to a healthy baby girl, Rose, in a First Nations village.
Rose married twice, the first into the LeDuc family and the second time into the Swanson family, both prominent in Armstrong.
Rose Swanson Mountain is named after Schubert’s youngest child.
“Her Irish connection was very important to Catherine,” said Gamble. “If we do this (sister city relationship), my mind just goes crazy.
“I can see all of us making a trip to Ireland, and I could see members of the Schubert and LeDuc families being involved.”
Council will send a letter of introduction to the head of the governing body of Rathfriland, expressing interest in creating a sister city relationship.
A letter of appreciation will also be sent to Peters for initiating contact and for any further assistance he can provide.