Agnes Maule Machar
(1837 - 1927)
Canadian writer and social reformer Agnes Maule Machar was the daughter of two Scottish immigrants. She grew up in Kingston, Ontario, with her younger brother. Her father, a Church of Scotland clergyman and co-founder of Queen’s College, taught her to read in five languages at an early age. Machar lived with her mother after her father’s passing, and then with her brother.
Under both her own name and the pseudonym Fidelis, Machar wrote copiously, publishing eight or more novels, poetry, stories, essays, and a biography of her father. She also co-wrote six works of popular history and painted and drew prizewinning art. Machar won the Campbell’s Prize in both 1870 and 1871 and the Canadian Monthly and National Review prize in 1874. Her only poetry collection, the anthology Lays of the "True North" and Other Canadian Poems, was published in 1899.
Highly regarded as a writer and activist during her lifetime and in the generations after, Machar hosted prominent politicians, writers, and cultural figures at her summer home in Ferncliff. She was a crusader for social justice who used her essays and influence to defend the rights of women, children, workers, and the elderly. Her beliefs were radical for the time: she petitioned for clemency for Métis resistance leader Louis Riel, supported the acceptance of evolutionary theory into the Christian understanding of the world, and criticized the church for its lack of attention to the practical needs of the poor. In 1903, she was elected Vice-President of the Canadian Society of Authors. Machar died in Kingston in 1927.
Photo of Agnes Maule Machar (a.k.a. Fidelis) taken from Canadian Singers and Their Songs, compiled by Edward S. Caswell (Toronto: McCleland & Stewart, 1919).