The Palaeoproterozoic Southern Province comprises a thick, continental rift related volcanic-sedimentary sequence along the southern margin of the Archaean Superior Province. The Agnew Intrusion (50 km2), which is a member of the East Bull Lake suite of layered intrusions, occurs adjacent to the Superior Province - Southern Province boundary in central Ontario, Canada, and provides an opportunity to examine the early tectono-magmatic evolution of a Palaeoproterozoic rifting event. The Agnew Intrusion is a well-exposed, 2100 m thick, layered gabbronoritic to leucogabbronoritic pluton. It was the product of at least four recognizable, but chemically similar, high-Al2O3 and low-TiO2 magma pulses. Structural data, coupled with excellent stratigraphic correlations between the Agnew Intrusion and other East Bull Lake suite layered intrusions, suggest that these plutons are erosional remnants of one or more sill-like bodies that may originally have formed an extensive, subhorizontal mafic sheet. We argue on the basis of field evidence that the early evolution of the Southern Province was characterized by a large, mantle plume induced magmatic event that gave rise to a Palaeoproterozoic continental flood basalt province. However, the incompatible trace element characteristics of the Agnew Intrusion parental magma (i.e., large ion lithophile and light rare earth element enrichment and high field strength element depletion) are more typical of modern subduction-modified subcontinental lithospheric mantle. Given that this is a prevailing geochemical signature of mafic rocks in the Archaean-Palaeoproterozoic, we suggest that there was a fundamental difference in both the composition and structure between the ancient and more modern mantle. "Subduction-like" geochemical signatures may have been imparted to the entire developing mantle during early Earth differentiation.