Shumiatcher was born on October 21, 1896 in Gomel (now in Belarus) to parents Judah and Chasia Shumiatcher. In 1911, her large family, with two parents and 11 children, moved to Calgary, Alberta when she was a child. In Gomel, the family were tenant farmers, while in Calgary Judah taught Hebrew in the winter and worked as a farm laborer in the summer. All family members contributed to the family income in the years following immigration, holding jobs and assisting their mother, who took in boarders. Shumiatcher grew up in Calgary where she went by the anglicized name Ethel Smith.