McINTYRE, AGNES BUCHANAN (Whiddon), nurse, shelter superintendent, and police matron; b. 22 March 1858 (the date on her gravestone) or 22 March 1863 (the date in the 1901 census) in Edinburgh, daughter of Daniel McIntyre and Margaret —; m. 27 Jan. 1898 Edward Gauthier Whiddon in Toronto; they had no children; d. there 8 Dec. 1912.
Agnes McIntyre, who arrived in Canada in 1882, may have lived briefly in Montreal and worked as a nurse for the Woman’s Missionary Society, visiting the Protestant sick. A Baptist, she apparently joined William Holmes Howland* in his mission and temperance work after moving to Toronto in the mid 1880s. (The person of the same name who taught in Toronto at this time was someone else.) Agnes would be remembered as a temperance lecturer “of considerable ability.” For her service as a nurse in the Toronto Smallpox Hospital during the outbreak of 1888, she received $100 and a gold medal from city council.
By the early 1890s Agnes was providing a haven for “erring” girls and street children in her home on Centre Avenue in St John’s Ward. According to city directories, she was superintendent of the Night Shelter for Women in 1892–93 and 1895 and of the Gospel Mission Rooms in 1894, and matron of the Shelter for Girls in 1897. The girls’ refuge, opened two years previously by the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union on the initiative of police inspector David Archibald*, was intended to protect young females from the temptations of the city. By its second year, 130 girls had been sheltered, on average for two and three-quarter days. The majority were placed in domestic service; others were helped to return to their parents or guardians. Although the operation was a success, in July 1897 Agnes resigned. In January 1898 she married a widowed house-and-sign painter with four children.
In the mid 1890s Agnes had worked as a part-time police matron at Station No.1 on Court Street in relief of Elizabeth Smith. This experience, along with her shelter work, secured her appointment as matron from 1 Jan. 1899. For the next 13 years she would be a familiar figure; from the time of her appointment she lived on the premises, her office having been furnished for the purpose. The Police Court sat at Station No.1 [see Rupert Etherege Kingsford] and her primary duties involved searching women on their arrival and accompanying them to court. As well, she assisted the detectives, notably in cases of theft. She was apparently both fearless and generous. “A little bit of a woman” but, according to one colleague, “sharp as a steel trap,” she remarked of her work with tough female inmates: “I have learned how to handle them. This is not a charitable institution.” Despite her modest annual salary of $400 to $500, she was known to pay the legal expenses of particularly needy women, and on occasion she acted as an expert witness. In the case of alleged rape brought against James O’Brien by Genevieve Harkness in 1905, for example, Agnes testified on her behalf. Following the appointment of an assistant matron in March 1910, she was transferred on an experimental basis to police headquarters so that she might attend Police Court – both were then situated in city hall – and assist the staff and detective department. By 1912 she was living in a rooming-house on Gould Street.
A late marriage and heavy police responsibilities had contributed to shortening Agnes’s experience of married life. Her husband was a resident of the House of Industry by 1909 and in 1911 he was transferred to the Home for Incurables. Agnes herself was granted sick leave with full pay in October 1912. She died at Toronto Western Hospital in December after an operation for appendicitis and was buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery in the family plot of a police colleague, Inspector Andrew Allison. Her modest estate was divided between her husband and a beneficiary in Scotland, who could not be traced.
Agnes Whiddon, an obituary noted, “wasn’t just a cog in the justice machine. She was a woman.” At a time when there were few opportunities for mature women in the paid workforce or the public service, outside teaching, she had undertaken a variety of tasks. Her work fitted the social causes which animated a generation of urban women and men. In an era of maternal feminist reform, the task of “rescuing” girls from temptation and vice offered an unprecedented opportunity for women to organize and work.
[The author would like to acknowledge the assistance of Leigh Valliere, a graduate student in history at York Univ., North York, Ont., in researching this biography. s.e.h.]
AO, F 885, MU 8407.7, MU 8407.10; RG 22-305, no.26434; RG 22-392, box 265, file 8835; RG 80-5-0-253, no.1217. City of Toronto Arch., RG 1, A (City Council, minutes), 1888, 2: 1792. Metropolitan Toronto Police Museum and Discovery Centre, Board of police commissioners, minutes, 1899–1912, esp. 1 Jan. 1899, 1 March 1910; Police constable, Annual report, 1899; Station No.1, duty books, 1899. Mount Pleasant Cemetery (Toronto), Burial records and tombstone inscription. NA, RG 31, C1, 1901, Toronto, Ward 3, div.2: 1 (mfm. at AO). UCC-C, Fonds 127, 79.205C, files 2-1, 3-1, 3-3. Evening Telegram (Toronto), 9 Dec. 1912. Globe, 9 Dec. 1912. Toronto Daily Star, 9 Dec. 1912. Directory, Toronto, 1891–1912. PCC, Woman’s Missionary Soc. [(Home, French and Foreign)], Historical sketch of past 25 years of the Woman’s Missionary Society of the Presbyterian Church in Canada (Montreal, 1907), 6–7.