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


May 10,2018  Post - Mentors


In the next phase of her artistic training Florence McGillivray with great insight and thoughts of her future, arranged private lessens from some of the most notable personalities in the growing Canadian art centre in Toronto.

The first, longest and most influential of these artists was Lucius R. O'Brien, then president of  the Ontario Society of Artists and later president of the Royal Canadian Academy, and one of Canada's leading landscape artists. O'Brien worked in watercolour and oils.  Her tenure with him lasted from 1890 to 1898 and they became close friends.

Next was F.M. Bell-Smith known for his large canvasses and one of the commissioned CPR artists who traveled the country to produce the vistas of this great land for promotion of travel on the new railroads. 

When her family asked her to produce family portraits of her parents, grandparents, and others in the family, Florence took lessons from J.W.L. Forster, considered Canada's premiere portraitist. Finally F. McGillivray Knowles ( no relation) who was well known in Toronto's art scene became one of her teachers.  He later hired her as assistant art instructor at Ontario Ladies College. 

All of these men taught the classic techniques of the English and Dutch schools and were involved in the exhibitions and associations in Toronto during that era. 

Florence brilliantly networked through these connections and met other artists whom she associated with going forward. This along with the sisterhood of artists  at the Women's Art Association of Canada, led to her acquaintance with artists such as Laura Muntz Lyall and Marion Long. 

In 1898 she travelled to New York and studied ceramics and painting with Marshall Fry at his Long Island studio. In the fall of 1898 she invited Lucius O'Brien to Inverlynn and they captured the fields and streams around her home in wonderful watercolour paintings. O'Brien died in 1899 and his last paintings are of the Whitby area.


July 4, 2018 Post -Florence The Teacher


While Florence was still enrolled as a student in the Whitby Grammar school and collegiate her parents had paid extra to  have her attend art classes from instructors like Mr. Shrapnell and others from England who came to the school. These additional classes cost between 5 and 10 dollars per term. In her astute way she then offered to teach other students what she had learned  from the sessions for 25 cents each.

After her further study in Toronto by 1886 it was reported in the Whitby Chronical that Florence had begun teaching residents of Whitby art classes which included drawing and painting and painting on china. She held annual classes at the Womens Temperance Free Reading Room in the Oddfellows building on Brock Street in Whitby.

Sometime in the 1890's Florence was brought in to Pickering College to teach art classes there for their students. This continued until the college was ravaged by fire in 1905. When the college is rebuilt in Newmarket in 1909 the promotional material listed Florence McGillivray as Directress of the Art Program. By 1910 Florence hired one of her former students Norma Wright from Ontario Ladies College to run the art program, and Florence remained affiliated with the collage as a critic for many years.

Prior to that about 1904 Florence was hired by one of her mentors Farquhar McGillivray Knowles to become assistant art Instructor at Ontario Ladies College she worked there teaching art to the students until 1912 when she departed on her European tour but she remained affiliated with OLC for the rest of her life.

She was an accomplished educator and developed many enduring friendships with several instructors from the colleges and also life long friendships with many of her gifted art students. These friendships and associations lead to invitations to visit in the future when Florence traveled across North America and to the  Caribbean.


July 18, 2018 Post - Review at the close of the 19th Century


As we look back on the events that effected Florence McGillivray's early life it is obvious to me that she was a clear thinking, entrepanurial women and a strategic thinker. She enjoyed the support of her family and was influenced by their engagement in society. Florence studied art intently and sought out great Canadian artists to increase her artistic knowledge. She was socially active and an effective net worker who connected with those in the art scene in Canada, including influential and affluent women who were activists in that era.

We see this in her associations with the members of the Women's Art Association Of Canada (W.A.A.C.) including its President Mary E. Dignam  and others who championed women's issues of the day like Lady Aberdeen its patron and wife of the Governor General. She likely associated with other members of the W.A.A.C. like Phoebe Watson (sister of Homer Watson who was a comtempoary of her mentor Lucius O'Brien). Phoebe was known for her great ceramic works at the W.A.A.C. and was one of the selected members to create the State Dinner Service for Rideau Hall.  This service was supposed to be paid for by the government by it is now part of Haddo House in Aberdeenshire by way of Lady Aberdeenshire. Artists of the W.A.A.C. helped and supported each other to gain exposure and create their work. Surely artists like Laura Muntz  a member who also had a studio in the Arcade Building  along with Florence's instructor William Cruikshank  from the Ontario College of Art would have been in her circle of acquaintances. The multitude of women and men in Toronto's art world, the likes of Marion Long and Fred Brigden would become her lifelong friends.

It was clear by her selection of influential mentors, that Florence was aware of what was going on in Canadian and International art. She benefitted from these connections as well as the networking stemming from business, fraternal and social connections of her successful brothers and sisters.

One of the dramatic events that altered her life was the death of her father in 1894. Not only was his estate large but he had challenged his sons to continue to manage the prosperous farm operations for the benefit of all the family. This large estate was a benefit to Florence, but she did not sit on her gains or fritter away her share, rather she embarked on a multi faceted career as an educator, and an artist, while caring for a sister and her elderly mother. Florence still managed to be quite prolific producing her art in this time.

There appears to be an undocumented trip to England in the mid 1890's after her fathers death? Perhaps with family or with others artists, she painted several early landscapes of English cottages, and perhaps a couple of French scenes from Moret  ( Laura Muntz was visiting Moret in that time also, but these scenes may be from a later visit). Most of these early paintings are undated and not signed ( very typical of her early works)

Evidence of this trip occurring can not be confirmed, but the paintings do exist. Perhaps it was a summer trip with family to celebrate their fathers life, which may have included a trip to Scotland the ancestral home.

As the century drew to a close Florence McGillivray had given herself a solid footing in the art world. She was a self sufficient woman with a career as an educator and a talent to produce marvellous works of art using what she had learned but creating her own individual style with a sensitive and delicate use of oils and watercolours.

Aug. 24, 2018 Post - A New Era

Painted view of Whitby from on top of Ontario Ladies College


As the new century opened we would have found Florence teaching art to the students at Pickering College and before long she would become Assistant Art Instructor at Ontario Ladies College, holding both positions simultaneously. These prestigious institutions brought in students from all over North America. In spite of her busy careers at the schools she found the time to explore further afield than the Whitby area to paint. She like her contemporary Henrietta Mabel May of Montreal would begin to explore the wilderness areas of Ontario and Quebec for landscapes that appealed to her. This was long before the men of the Algonquin school began to explore the Canadian Wilderness and as the Group of Seven defined a Canadian Art movement. ( From Maria Tippet in her book "By A Lady").

Florence before she became a member exhibited her paintings at the Ontario Society of Artists at their exhibitions in 1901, 1902, and 1903. As time progressed her appearance in the annual exhibitions at O.S.A., the Royal Canadian Academy, the Montreal Artists Association and many other prestigious institutions became commonplace. In addition to becoming a member of O.S.A. and R.C.A. , she was a member of the Women's Art Association of Canada, the New York Society of Painters and Sculptors, the Heliconian Club and the International Artists Union.