University Registrar


University Registrar

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About George Monro Grant


The Rev. George Monro Grant (1835-1902) is the most important of all Queen's Principals. More famous in his day that any Queen's Principal before - or since - Grant transformed the University in his 25 years of leadership (1877-1902) from a struggling denominational college into a dynamic national institution.

He was born into a farming family in Pictou County, Nova Scotia. At the age of eight, he lost his right hand in an agricultural accident, which guaranteed that his future would lie in mental rather than physical labour. He was educated at Pictou Academy, the West River Seminary, and Glasgow University, where he was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1860. From 1863 to 1877 he served as Minister of St Matthew's Church in Halifax; one of his parishioners there was Sandford Fleming, who in 1871 was appointed Chief Engineer of the Canadian Pacific Railway. In 1872, Fleming invited Grant to join him as a member of the CPR's survey party for the trans-Canada railway, and Grant wrote an account of the gruelling cross-country journey in his popular book Ocean to Ocean . That trip deepened Grant's ardent nationalism which, along with his profound religious convictions, formed the basis of his vision for Queen's.

He was selected Principal of the University in 1877. Queen's mission, he believed, should be to join moral and scientific education, sacred and secular knowledge, to produce graduates who would build the growing country in a spirit of dedicated service rather than material gain. To achieve these aims he first had to put the chronically poor university on a firm financial footing. This he did with a series of spectacularly successful fundraising campaigns. Queen's flourished under his leadership. It attracted first-rate faculty and increasing numbers of students; it began a program of graduate studies; and it added new buildings, faculties, and departments - the most important being the Ontario School of Mining and Agriculture, the precursor to the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science.

Grant also wrote and spoke frequently and forcefully on the main political questions of the day and was one of Canada's most influential shapers of opinion. In his 25 years at Queen's he inspired deep devotion in students, who affectionately called him "Geordie, Our King." In his final years, as his health was deteriorating, they spearheaded a drive for a new stone building to be named in his honour. Grant Hall opened shortly after his death and, with its tall limestone tower, is Queen's best-known landmark.

Several of Grant's descendants have also made their mark on Canada. His son, William Lawson Grant, taught history at Queen's from 1909 until the First World War, and co-authored his father's biography 'Principal Grant' with alumnus F.C. Hamilton. His grandson, George Parkin Grant, was one of Canada's most distinguished philosophers and the author of the influential book Lament for a Nation: the Defeat of Canadian Nationalism . The Principal's great-grandson, Michael Ignatieff, is well known in Canada and Britain as an author, television host, former Member of Parliament and Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, as well as an expert on international affairs.


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