Gertrude Watney (nee Smith) was born in New Denver, B.C. After completing her elementary and high school education in New Denver, Smith came to University of British Columbia where she earned a B.A. in 1923. Smith continued her career at UBC and obtained her M.A. in zoology in 1926. From 1926 to 1928 she served as an instructor in biology and then in zoology. During the summers of 1926, 1927 and 1928, Smith carried out research at the Pacific Biological Station at Nanaimo. In 1928 Smith began graduate work at the University of California at Berkeley (she would obtain her Ph.D. from that institution in 1934). In 1930 she returned to UBC as an assistant professor in zoology and remained at the University until 1940. Smith married Reverend Doug P. Watney a professor of theology at the Anglican Theological College in 1937.