Florence's Stories

Oct. 2017 Post - Origins

This family photo taken at their home "Inverlynn" in 1870 includes all the family, Florence is the little head poking up bottom centre


We have to begin her story by connecting with her genealogy. Her father, George Gillivray ( the Mc was added to the family name in Canada). was dispatched to Canada in 1833 to find property to settle and farm by his father John. An expat Scot already living in Whitby, William Dow, encouraged him to come to Whitby. He informed George in a letter, that the area had excellent soil and a fine protected harbour for the export of produce. George found a fifty acre plot on the southwest corner of what is now Lake Ridge and Taunton Roads. They built their first home there, that they called "Cloverdale". The McGillivray's were from St. Fergus, Scotland. In 1835 John and wife Mary Gordon, and two of his sisters left Peterhead Scotland for Canada with other members of the St. Fergus community on the vessel "the Alert". Some of the others on that trip included the Brodie family and Tam Thomson (the Grandfather of the painter Tom Thomson). The Brodie's settled in Stouffville. Elizabeth Brodie and Tam Thomson were married in Whitby, with George Gillivray as their witness. They settled in Claremont, north of the McGillivray property. Both families where members of the only Presbyterian church that existed then in Pickering. They were well acquainted and likely socially engaged in the local Scottish Presbyterian community.


Nov. 2017 Post - Florence recalls


When asked later in life by an associate to recall her beginnings in art, Florence wrote, that at the age of six she had discovered the bluing soap used for the laundry and that it made a fine substance to create drawings on scrap paper. She may have done her drawings together with her older brothers and sisters, who would have had homework to do from their classes at the Whitby Grammar School. She would have also seen the paintings, hung around the home of the ornithological and maritime studies painted by her Grandfather the naturalist Charles Fothergill. This is how her interest in art began. She also wrote that this is how her love of the colours blue and green began and became dominant in her paintings throughout her career.


Nov. 18, 2017 - Origins Continued


In the ensuing years after George Mcgillivray had settled at the newly constructed home "Cloverdale" with his mother and father, he met and married Caroline Amelia Fothergill in 1846. Georges father financed the purchase of a farm and 200 acres for George and Caroline their marital home. It was adjacent to Cloverdale on the north west corner of Lake Ridge and Taunton Roads. They called their new home "Burnside" (these names are also place names that appear on old maps of St. Fergus Scotland). Florence's three eldest sisters were born at Burnside, Elizabeth, Mary, and Catherine. By 1850, due to his advanced age, John, George's father was moved to a new house in Whitby and George and Caroline and their daughters move back to Clovendales. George installed a farm manager in the smaller home at Burnside. The Mcgillivray's next nine children were born at Cloverdale John, Adelaide, George, Charles, Caroline, Theodore, Florence, William, and Donald. In 1870 with little room to move in the Cloverdale home, George purchased a larger home in Whitby, that they called Inverlynn. He again hired a farm manager to run Cloverdale. One last child was born at Inverlynn, Norman. This property would bring their real estate holdings to over 700 acres, this was a prosperous time for the McGillivray family.


Nov. 18, 2017 Post - Florence is Born


On March 1, 1864 Florence Helena McGillivray was born, the last girl of the six daughters born to George and Caroline McGillivray. We could imagine Florence as a toddler running around this pastoral farm in the fresh air and sunshine. She would have been watched closely by her parents, and cared for by her elder sisters. The mcGillivray family were very socially interactive in their community, and deeply involved with the Presbyterian church. George a busy farmer and developer was active in Whitby's St. Andrews Society and in other charitable causes along with Caroline. Caroline's father Charles Fothergill, the naturalist was also a printer, painter, publicist and politician.

His artwork hung around the home. Arts and education were part of the foundation that all the children were exposed too. This was an inspirational and motivating environment for Florence during her formative years.


Dec. 10, 2017 Post -Education


  Precise attendance records do not exist for Florence McGillivray's early education. Florence first attended the Whitby Grammar School then the Whitby Collegiate, following her brothers and sisters. In that time these schools had a very good reputation for being outstanding educational institutions. Children came to these schools from all over Ontario because of their outstanding reputation. Florence's sister Catherine met her husband David Maclaren at the school, he was from Ottawa. Tom Thomson's father, John from Claremont, also attended the Whitby schools and may have boarded with the McGillivray's at Inverlynn. Florence who had already shown an interest in art as a child, took painting classes at the school under two different teachers, They were originally from England and instructed in the classic style of the English school. Florence passed on what she learned from these art classes to her fellow students. The family had to pay extra for Florence's art courses and Florence charged some of her schoolmates 25 cents per term to share her lessons.

Florence by 1881, had won an award for her paintings which she had entered in the Bowmanville Fall Fair. She continued to enter her paintings in the local fairs and the proceeds from these wins helped her to afford additional painting lessons.

Jan.25, 2018 Post - Art School

The Arcade Building in Toronto a gathering place for artists and art schools



Encouraged by her success in local fairs and supported by her family. Florence was urged by her mother to consider art school in Toronto. She enrolled in the Toronto Art School and the Central Ontario School of Art under William Cruikshank. This occurred in the 1880's (again no precise records of attendance exist), and it is believed that these schools were housed in the new Arcade Building on Yonge Street in Toronto. The records of the Central Ontario School of Art, which later became The Ontario College of Art and Design, start after 1910. The Arcade Building was an innovative indoor shopping mall within a three storey building with an open courtyard. It became a hub for art and business education, with studios on the upper floors, a place where young artists mingled. Florence made acquaintances  with many of her artist contemporaries while she was there. Artists like Laura Muntz and Marion Long were there, as well as others (Laura had a studio there and Marion attended classes and was a part of the Toronto Art Students League which was later formed in the Arcade Building. The schools taught in the classic English and Dutch Schools of art. Marion Long  became a life long friend to Florence and in the thirties she painted a beautiful portrait of Florence for posterity.


March 25, 2018 Post - Painted China


Another Institution was born in the Arcade building during that era. It was Mrs. Westacott's Art School. In the mid 1880's after Mary E. Dignam was made President it became The Women's Art Association of Canada. This venerable women's institution had several homes before landing permanently on Prince Arthur Avenue in Toronto where it thrives today. Mary E. Dignam who ran it for many years, challenged her pupils to create arts and crafts, paintings, and painted china with the goals of sales and self sufficiency. Florence understood this message and joined the association early on, about 1886. She explored the art of painting on china as well as her drawing and painting over the next several years. Florence offered classes in drawing, painting and painting on china to the residents of Whitby after 1886 in the Women's Temperance Free Reading Room at the Oddfellows Building on Brock Street in Whitby. Later in the 1898 she continued  her study in ceramics at the studio of Marshal Fry in New York. She completed many ceramic works into the 1920's and creating dishes, cups, wash sets and many beautiful items. Many of these wares can be found in collections today