Agnes Maule Machar

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Agnes Maule Machar
Agnes Maule Machar (Canadian Singers and Their Songs).jpg
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).
Born (1837-01-23)January 23, 1837
Kingston, Ontario
Died January 24, 1927(1927-01-24) (aged 90)
Kingston, Ontario
Occupation Writer
Language English
Nationality Canadian

Agnes Maule Machar (23 January 1837 – 24 January 1927) was a Canadian author and social reformer.[1]

Machar's father, John Machar immigrated to Canada in 1827, and married Margaret Sim (a fellow Scottish immigrant) in Montreal in 1832.[1] The couple established themselves in Kingston, Ontario (then part of Upper Canada), where her father was the pastor of St. Andrew's Church.[1] The couple's first child died in infancy; Agnes was born in 1837; and her brother, John Maule, in 1841.[1]

Apart from a brief stint at a boarding school in Montreal, Machar was educated by her father at home.[1] By the age of ten Machar was studying Latin and Greek, instructed by her father and aided by his extensive library.[1] Soon after she learned French, Greek and Italian.[1]

Machar moved in influential social circles, mingling with future prime minister John A. Macdonald, politicians like Richard John Cartwright, and professors at Queen's University such as George Romanes.[1] At her summer home in Gananoque she hosted an array of international luminaries such as Daniel James Macdonnell and Emily Pauline Johnson.[1]

Machar was a prolific writer. Her first published book, Faithful Unto Death, was a memorial to a janitor at Queen's, published in 1859.[1] Her 1870 novel, Katie Johnstone's Cross, won the Campbell's Prize (offered by Toronto publisher James Campbell and Son), and she won the same prize again the next year for Lucy Raymond.[2] In 1874 she received another prize, this time for For King and Country, awarded by The Canadian Monthly and National Review; the novel is probably her best known work.[2] Writing under her own name, and the pseudonym Fidelis, Machar published at least eight novels, a biography of her father, and many poems and essays.[1] An anthology of her poetry, Lays of the "True North" and Other Canadian Poems was published in 1899, and she coauthored six historical works.[1]

As an essayist, Machar frequently wrote about challenges faced by Christianity in the face of rapidly advancing scientific knowledge.[1] Her friends included prominent Darwinists such as George Romanes and Grant Allen, and she wrote that Christians should accept evolutionary theory as part of an adapting and fuller understanding of God's word.[1] Secularist William Dawson LeSueur, although he disagreed with her, praised her arguments.[1]

Machar also advocated for churches to deliver more charity to the poor, especially during the depressions of the late 19th century.[1] She was particularly critical of the hypocrisy she saw where churches worked to save the souls of the poor, while disregarding their physical needs.[1] She argued for justice, a right to work, and sufficient means to rise above a subsistence existence.[1] Beyond her essays, she also explored these themes in her well-received 1892 novel, Roland Graeme, Knight.[1]

Machar also advocated for prohibition and proposed that the state should establish homes for the care of impoverished elderly citizens, whom she described as "veteran[s] in the industrial army."[1] She dedicated her own resources to this cause, bequeathing an endowment to establish the Agnes Maule Machar Home in Kingston "for old ladies past earning their own livelihood."[1]

A witness to Confederation, Machar was concerned about English–French tensions in the young country. She wrote poetry, fiction, and historical accounts of French achievements in Canada.[1] She also wrote (unsuccessful) letters and essays pleading for clemency for Louis Riel, and, after World War I, compiled and translated letters from French soldiers who had died in the conflict.[1]

As a feminist, Machar argued in favour of higher education and fair working conditions for women.[1] She advocated for better conditions for women and children in shops and factories, as well as for legislation requiring shorter hours for women workers.[1] This last demand was challenged by fellow-feminist Carrie Matilda Derick who argued that it was inconsistent with the goal of gender equality.[1]

Machar died in Kingston in 1927.[1]


  • Faithful Unto Death: A Memorial of John Anderson, Late Janitor of Queen's College, Kingston, C.W. (1859; published anonymously)
  • Katie Johnstone's Cross (1870)
  • Lucy Raymond: or The Children's Watchword (1871)
  • For King and Country: A Story of 1812 (1874)
  • Lost and Won
  • Stories of New France (1890)
  • Marjorie's Canadian Winter (1891)
  • Roland Graeme, Knight (1892)
  • Lays of the "True North" and Other Canadian Poems (1899)
  • Stories of Old Kingston (1908)
  • Stories of the British Empire (1913)


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa Brouwer, Ruth Compton (2003). "Machar, Agnes Maule". Dictionary of Canadian Biography. University of Toronto/Université Laval. Retrieved 6 June 2015. 
  2. ^ a b Nieto, Natalia Rodriguez (2014). The novel in English as paradigm of Canadian literary identity: From Frances Booke to Sara Jeannette Ducan. Ediciones Universidad de Salamanca. pp. 185–186. ISBN 9788490123539. 

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