GRIER, ROSE JANE ELIZABETH, educator and author; b. 10 Feb. 1832 in Carrying Place, Upper Canada, eldest daughter of John Grier and Eliza Lilias Geddes; d. unmarried 28 Oct. 1920 in Toronto.
When she was nine years old, Rose Jane Elizabeth Grier moved with her family to Belleville, where her father, an Anglican clergyman, assumed charge of St Thomas Church. Like many other Upper Canadian girls, she received most, if not all, of her education at home. She demonstrated an interest in music at an early age and later served as organist and choir mistress at St Thomas, where, according to a contemporary, “she is said to have introduced, with her father’s approval, ‘Hymns Ancient and Modern’ to choir and congregation.”
Devotion and duty to God and her family were the governing forces in Grier’s life. Two events were to have a profound effect on her. In 1856 she became engaged to Joseph Hutton, son of William Hutton* of Belleville and a promising young lawyer. In January the following year, two weeks before their intended wedding, Joseph died. Some years later she went to London, England, to care for her sister Sarah Hannah Roberta Coome [Grier*], who had been invalided after a fall. While in England Grier became interested in the Sisters of St Mary, an Anglican order in Wantage, and she was preparing to enter the noviciate in 1871 when she was summoned to her father’s deathbed.
On 29 June five years later Grier was offered the position of lady principal of Bishop Strachan School in Toronto. Founded in 1867 by a group of clergy and lay people led by the Reverend John Langtry, the school was one of the first ventures by the Church of England in Canada into the realm of female education. It was intended for the “instruction of young ladies in the various secular branches of a liberal education, and also the inculcation of the Christian doctrine, as contained in the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer.” Prior to Grier’s arrival, BSS had been plagued with problems, including a lack of financial support and decreasing enrolment. A committee appointed that year to “consider . . . the reorganization of the School and . . . the appointment of a Principal” had initially looked for a clergyman to head the institution. When the committee was unable to find one willing or able to take the post, it was offered to Grier at a salary of “not less than $500 for the first year” and “a certain share” of any profits. The committee’s report noted that although she had had no experience in such a position, she had been active in church work. “She has had considerable experience in the management of a household, in which it appears she excels, and she is now engaged in teaching a small select school, and in giving lessons in music to several private pupils.”
When Grier arrived at BSS, the course of study comprised English language and literature, other modem languages, Latin, mathematics, history, geography, natural science, vocal and instrumental music, drawing, needlework, and calisthenics. She was to serve as principal for 23 years, a period marked by stability and scholarship. An excellent teacher and administrator, she nevertheless made her greatest impact through her strong personality and her spirituality. After she had completed her tenth year at the school in 1887, the governing council recorded its “high appreciation of the excellent work she has accomplished in the moral and intellectual training of the pupils committed to her charge.” It credited her with “the efficiency of the School, its steadily growing reputation throughout the country and its present successful condition.”
Grier retired in 1899 and was presented with a purse containing $325 in gold and an engraved address. Her old girls expressed “their gratitude for the influence you have exercised on their lives . . . [and] the example of earnest, consecrated womanhood you have always set them.” Her association with BSS did not end that year. After the decision was made to move the school to its present College Heights site, Grier turned the first sod on 29 May 1913, an act symbolic of her years of service, “in which she gave . . . not only her time but herself, her ideals, her faith, her character.” The sanctuary in the new chapel was dedicated to her memory in 1926.
After her retirement, Grier made her home at the convent of the Sisterhood of St John the Divine in Toronto. The order, the first Anglican community for women in Canada, had been founded by her sister Hannah in 1884, and Grier was its first associate and a regular contributor. About 1905 she published a small volume of devotional verse titled Alleviations, which was dedicated to her former pupils. In her preface she noted that the poems had not been written for publication and had been printed by request “that those that care for them may have them.” Grier also wrote words and music for several hymns used by the school or the order. She died at the hospital run by the order in October 1920.
Information on the life and career of Rose Jane Elizabeth Grier is available in the Bishop Strachan School Arch. and the Arch. of the Sisterhood of St John the Divine, both in Toronto. The latter has an undated “Songbook” in its collection which includes several of her hymns.
AO, F 1199; RG 2-109, box 1. Dominion Churchman (Toronto), 13 July 1876, continued as Canadian Churchman (Toronto), 18 Nov. 1920. Bishop Strachan School, The Bishop Strachan School . . . [prospectus] (Toronto, 1877; copy in MTRL, BR); The Bishop Strachan School jubilee record – 1867–1927 ([Toronto?, 1927?]). Bishop Strachan School Magazine (Toronto), midsummer 1917, Christmas 1920. A brief history of the Sisterhood of Saint John the Divine, 1884–1946 (2nd revision, [Toronto?, 1946?]). The descendants of John Grier, with histories of allied families; a biographical and genealogical record, comp. J. G. Stevens (Baltimore, Md, 1964). Carolyn Gossage, A question of privilege: Canada’s independent schools (Toronto, 1977). A memoir of the life and work of Hannah Grier Coome, mother foundress of the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine, Toronto, Canada (London, 1933). S. John’s Messenger (Toronto), Advent 1891: 10. Katharine Wallbridge Clarke, “The story of the Bishop Strachan School,” BSSA [Bishop Strachan School Old Girls’ Assoc.], Bull. (Toronto), 37 (1949).