Benidickson, Agnes McCausland (1920-2007)

[Agnes Benidickson]

Agnes McCausland Benidickson, Queen's Chancellor from 1980 to 1996, was the first woman elected to the position and also the first to follow in a parent's footsteps in holding the post.

In her role, Benidickson drew on her time as a student in the 1930s, years of philanthropic and corporate leadership experience, and more than a decade of service to the university’s Board of Trustees.

On top of that, her family had long and deep ties to the university:

  • Richardson Stadium was named in honour of her uncle, who died in the First World War
  • her aunt, Agnes Etherington (whom she was named after), bequeathed her family home for use as a university and community art gallery
  • her father, James Richardson, served as Queen’s chancellor from 1929 to 1939. Benidickson said that in their house growing up, her father would quietly sing the “Oil Thigh” to himself each morning as he shaved before work.

Born in 1920 in Chaffey’s Locks, Ontario, into the Richardson Family, Agnes Benidickson was raised in Winnipeg, where her family owned a major grain, aviation, and investment corporation. She was raised with the credo that “to whom much is given, much is required,” and so went on to devote much of her life to public service.

When Benidickson came to Queen’s to pursue her BA, her dedication to volunteering earned her the Tricolour Award, the university’s highest prize for extra-curricular student service.

After graduating in 1941, she returned to Winnipeg and took to supporting issues that spanned public affairs, Canadian cultural heritage, health and social services, business, and, of course, higher education. To support Canada’s efforts during Second World War, she volunteered with the Red Cross. She also began her 54 years of work with the family business, serving as director of James Richardson and Sons Ltd. Benidickson also brought her management savvy to a number of other organizations, including as a board member for Board of the National Trust and Mutual Life for 14 years.

In 1947, she married William Moore Benidickson, a Liberal MP for Kenora-Rainy River. The couple moved to Ottawa, where Ms. Benidickson was soon involved with local issues. She helped launch the Ottawa Civic Hospital Auxiliary, the Ottawa Carleton Community Foundation, presided over the Ottawa Women’s Canadian Club, and was president of the National Association of Canadian Clubs (1979-1983). For six years, she also served as Canadian representative of the Volunteer Committee of Art Museums of the United States, and was co-chair in Canada.

Her strong interest in public welfare led to her involvement with the Canadian Council on Social Development, where she served as president from 1972-74. Despite these commitments, she also kept close tabs on politics. Whenever her husband was up for re-election, she typically managed his campaigns.

[Agnes Benidickson with Prince Charles]
Agnes Benidickson with Prince Charles in 1991

Ms. Benidickson was elected to the university’s Board of Trustees in 1969 and became vice-chair in 1975. Five years later, in 1980, she was elected as Queen’s first female chancellor. This made her and James Richardson the only father-daughter duo in Canadian history to serve as university chancellors.

She served as Chancellor for 16 years, working tirelessly to advance the university’s interests. She travelled across the country fundraising and “friendraising” for Queen’s, inspiring numerous graduates to reconnect with their alma mater. She also helped to increase the collections of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, scouring family attics for period-appropriate furniture for the restoration of Etherington House.

It is estimated that during her 16 years as chancellor, she conferred more than 64,000 degrees upon Queen’s students.

For all her accomplishments, Benidickson received an honorary degree from Queen’s in 1979 and honorary doctorates from the University of British Columbia, the University of Manitoba, and Kingston’s Royal Military College of Canada. She was named to the Order of Canada in 1987 and elevated to companion in 1998. She was humbled when the Tricolour Award was renamed in her honour in 1996, 55 years after she had been a recipient.

To thank her for a lifetime of service to the university, Queen’s offered multiple times to name a building in her honour. Each time, she refused, saying there was someone more worthy of the distinction. As a compromise, the university named the lush green field, now Agnes Benidickson Field, north of Kingston Hall for her. In October 2010, the Board of Trustees also approved the dedication of the East Wing of Summerhill as Benidickson House in recognition of the lifetime contributions from Agnes Benidickson in support of Queen's.

She died March 3, 2007.

[grassy field on campus]
Agnes Benidickson Field