by George J. Dance


Susan Frances Harrison in Canadian Singers and their Songs, 1919. Courtesy Internet Archive.

Susan Frances Harrison
Born Susan Frances Riley
February 24, 1859
Toronto, Ontario
Died May 5, 1935 (aged 76)
Toronto, Ontario
Pen name Seranus, Gilbert King, Medusa
Occupation composer, pianist, writer
Nationality Canada Canadian
Ethnicity Irish
Citizenship British subject
Notable work(s) Pine, Rose, and Fleur-de-Lys, Crowded Out! & other sketches
Spouse(s) J.W.F. Harrison

Seranus was the pen name of Susan Frances Harrison (February 24, 1859 - May 5, 1935), a Canadian poet, novelist, music critic, and music composer.[1]


Seranus was born Susie Frances Riley in Toronto, of Irish-Canadian ancestry, the daughter of John Byron Riley.[2]

She studied music with Frederic Boscovitz, at a private school for girls in Toronto, and later in Montreal.[2]

She reportedly began publishing poetry, in the Canadian Illustrated News, at 16 under the pseudonym "Medusa."[3]

After completing her education, she worked as a pianist and singer. In 1880 she married organist John W.F. Harrison, of Bristol, England,[2] who was the organist of St. George's Church in Montreal. The couple had a son and a daughter.[4]

The Harrisons were living in Ottawa in 1883, when Susan Harrison composed the song "Address of Welcome to Lord Lansdowne", played at the initial public appearance of the new Governor General, Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, 5th Marquess of Lansdowne.[4]

In 1887 the Harrisons moved to Toronto, where John Harrison became organist and choirmaster of St. Simon the Apostle, and Susan Harrison began a literary career under the pseudonym "Seranus" (a misreading of her signature, "S. Frances"), soon publishing articles in "many of the leading journals and periodicals."[4] She also wrote a number of songs published in the United States and England under the name Seranus, and in addition published other songs in England under the name of Gilbert King.[5]

She was the music critic of The Week from December 1886 to June 1887 under her pen-name of Seranus. She wrote the "Historical sketch on Canadian music" for the 1898 Canada: An Encyclopedia of the Country.[5]

Harrison was considered an authority on folk music, and often lectured on the subject. She used traditional Irish melodies in her String Quartet on Ancient Irish Airs, and French-Canadian music in her 1887 Trois Esquisses canadiennes (Three Canadian Sketches), 'Dialogue,' 'Nocturne,' and 'Chant du voyageur'. She also incorporated French-Canadian melodies in her three-act opera, Pipandor (with libretto by F.A. Dixon of Ottawa).[5]

Her String Quartet on Ancient Irish Airs, is likely the first string quartet composed in Canada by a woman.[6]

In 1896 and 1897 she presented a series of well-received lectures in Toronto on "The Music of French Canada.[3]

For 20 years Harrison was the principal of the Rosedale, Toronto, branch of the Toronto Conservatory of Music.[1] During the 1900's she contributed to and edited the Conservatory's publication Conservatory Monthly, and contributed to its successor Conservatory Quarterly Review. She wrote the article on "Canada" for the 1909 Imperial History and Encyclopedia of Music.[5]

In addition, Harrison wrote at least 6 books of poetry, and 3 novels.[5]



Harrison's musical training is reflected in her poetry: "she was adept in her handling of the rhythmic complexities of poetic forms such as the sonnet and the villanelle. Like other Canadian poets of the late 19th century, her prevailing themes include nature, love, and patriotism. Her landscape poetry, richly influenced by the works of Charles G.D. Roberts and Archibald Lampman, paints the Canadian wilderness as beguilingly beautiful yet at the same time mysterious and distant."[1]

Harrison was a master of the villanelle. The villanelle was a French verse form that had been introduced to English readers by Edmund Gosse in his 1877 essay, "A Plea for Certain Exotic Forms of Verse".


Her novels "articulate a fascination with a heavily mythologized Quebec culture that Harrison shared with many English-speaking Canadians of her time ... characterized by a gothic emphasis on horror, madness, aristocratic seigneurial manor houses, and a decadent Catholicism."[1] "Harrison writes elegiacally of a regime whose romantic qualities are largely the creation of an Upper Canadian quest for a distinctive historical identity."[3]


Harrison experienced a decline in reputation in her lifetime. In 1916 anthologist John Garvin called her "one of our greater poets whose work has not yet had the recognition in Canada it merits."[4]. "By 1926, Garvin describes her merely as 'one of our distinctive poets'."[7]

The Dictionary of Literary Biography wrote of her, in 1990,[7] that "Harrison's unpublished work has not been preserved, her published work is out of print and difficult to obtain, and her once-substantial position in the literary life of her country is now all but forgotten."[3]




Short fictionEdit


Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[9]


  • "Historical sketch of music in Canada," in Canada: An encyclopedia of the country (edited by J.C. Hopkins), Volume IV. Toronto, 1898.
  • "Canada," in The Imperial History and Encyclopedia of Music, Volume III: History of Foreign Music (edited by W.L. Hubbard). New York, circa 1909.


Tree Reading Series - Janet Leroy reads Susan Frances Harrison

Tree Reading Series - Janet Leroy reads Susan Frances Harrison

Harrison's piano music has been recorded and issued on media, including:

  • Elaine Keillor, By a Canadian Lady: Piano music, 1841-1997. Carleton Sound
  • Elaine Keillor, Piano Music by Torontonians (1984)[10]

Poems by SeranusEdit

  1. Les Chantiers

See alsoEdit


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Natalie King, "Susan Frances Harrison (1859-1935)", Women Poets of the Confederation,, Web, May 4, 2001.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Sadie, Julie Anne; Samuel, Rhian (1994) (Digitized online by GoogleBooks). The Norton/Grove dictionary of women composers. Retrieved 19 December 2010. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 "Susan Frances Harrison Biography", Dictionary of Literary Biography,, Web, May 4, 2011.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 John W. Garvin, "S. Frances Harrison," Canadian Poets (Toronto: McClelland, Goodhild & Stuart, 1916), 124,, Web, Dec. 19, 2010.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Elaine Keillor, "Harrison, Susie Frances," Canadian Encyclopedia, Dominion Institute, Web, May 4, 2011.
  6. "Nocturne," Performing our Musical Heritage," Web, May 4, 2011.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Wanda Campbell, "Susan Frances Harrison," Hidden Rooms: Early Canadian women poets. London: Canadian Poetry Press, 2002. Canadian Poetry, UWO, Web, May 4, 2010.
  8. Search results: Susie Frances Harrison, Open Library, Web, May 9, 2011.
  9. Search results = au:Seranus, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Feb. 11, 2015.
  10. "Nocturne". Retrieved 10 December 2010. 

External linksEdit

Audio /video
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