Florence attended Compton Ladies’ College (now King’s Hall).
Perhaps Livesay's first great obstacle was the unexpected death of her father in 1888, which forced her to amend her immediate plans and find a job as a teacher to help support her family. After a year at the Sequin school in New York, Florence Randal moved to Montreal and taught both French and Latin at Buckingham Public School. However, her passion in writing did not subside, and toward the end of the nineteenth century, she started seeing some positive results by way of the publication of several stories, poems, and articles she had submitted to Massey’s Magazine and Canadian Magazine. Her first stable career opportunity came in 1897 when she was hired by the Ottawa Evening Journal as the first society editor, a position she held for the next five years.
At the age of 28, feeling a bit bored and in need of something more than the daily grind, Florence was confronted with an amazing opportunity. She was one of forty Canadian teachers chosen to undertake some philanthropic work in South Africa. Her assignment was to teach children whose parents and families were being held in concentration camps. She parlayed this unique assignment into even greater career opportunities by writing about her experiences and sending them overseas to be published in several Canadian publications. Among these were Saturday Night, Canadian Good Housekeeping, and the prestigious Toronto Globe. Her time at the Ottawa Evening Journal paid dividends, as she earned some regular space on the third page for her exotic and trying accounts.
By the time she returned home in 1903, she had gained increased confidence in her work and abilities, and was able to make a decisive career move to Winnipeg. Apparently, she had encountered some information that led her to believe there were more and greater opportunities for female journalists in Winnipeg. It did not take her long to find a job at the Telegram, but she was frustrated by the fact that she received a monthly income of only forty-three dollars. Although she went from working as the private secretary for the editor to various other positions at the Telegram over the course of the next three years, her job satisfaction was minimal. She wrote on January 1, 1906: “I am doing the Women’s Page on the Telegram but getting no more salary for it.” This was enough to prompt her to seek employment elsewhere, and by the end of 1906, she was working for the Winnipeg Free Press. Ironically, her proactive reaction made it possible for her to write her very own column, which she authored under the pen name “Kilmeny.” Also, her move to the Winnipeg Free Press led to re-acquaintance with her eventual husband, John Frederick Bligh Livesay, whom she had known when she was living in Ottawa.
By 1910, the year after the birth of her first daughter, Livesay was working at the Winnipeg Free Press as the editor of the Children’s Department. The Livesays had another daughter in 1912, and since both parents worked, they decided to hire someone to help with the maintenance of the household. At the time, Canada was experiencing an influx of immigrants, and the Livesays hired help was from the Ukraine. Already adept at foreign languages, Livesay developed an intrigue and respect for the songs and language shared by the help. Once again, Livesay was able to recognize opportunity in what appeared to be one of the most unlikely of areas, and create a niche which stemmed from her own honest interests, she took it upon herself to learn the Ukrainian language, at least enough to write it, and translate the songs for Canadians to enjoy. Her first of such efforts were published in University Magazine and Poetry, which was based in Chicago. Once collected, these efforts provided the content of her first book, Songs of Ukraine, which came to fruition in 1916.
This shift in interest represented a shift in literary priorities, as she became more aware and enamored of other under-celebrated and underexposed cultural creations. Her respect for different cultural works was not new, as she had in fact written stories set in French Canada, which were published at the turn of the nineteenth century. The first appeared in Massey’s Magazine in 1897, while the second appeared in Canadian Magazine in 1899. In 1927, she published a book called Savour of Salt, and this was a story of Irish-Catholic immigrants living in Ontario. Her literary compassion and vivid accounts of diverse folklore and perspectives earned her critical plaudits. At the time, the social climate in Canada was becoming more transient than ever. As with any significant changes in society, especially in communities unaccustomed to change, native Canadians were not immediately open to blindly welcoming the primarily European newcomers. Gerson notes that Livesay’s “Ukrainian songs and other folk literature are credited with helping English Canada to overcome its distrust of its Eastern European immigrants.”
Although she and her husband were steadily and successfully employed, neither enjoyed stringent financial planning. To them budgeting was quite unthinkable. Fortunately, they were not above working odd jobs to pay for unexpected expenses or pricey opportunities that presented themselves. For example, Livesay accepted a job selling encyclopedias around 1918 in order to finance a vacation to Vancouver with her two daughters. In 1920, Livesay’s husband was appointed general manager of the Canadian Press, and the family moved to Toronto.
At the loss of her husband in 1944, Livesay took it upon herself to collect and edit her husband’s personal notes and journals, and in 1947 she published The Making of a Canadian. In 1953, Livesay was involved in a bus accident, and her life was brought to an abrupt end. However, faithful admirers, including her daughter Dorothy Livesay and Louisa Loeb, continued Florence’s literary legacy by collecting her remaining Ukrainian manuscripts and following through to their publication in 1981. The Livesay’s literary gifts were passed along to Dorothy, their firstborn, who went on to become a well-known Canadian poet.
Florence was fluent in French and learned how to read Ukrainian. Clearly not limited or defined by social norms and expectations, Florence Hamilton Randal Livesay lived life according to her own abilities and desires. Weaving her professional skills deftly with the influences that were introduced to her life, Livesay invited a wide range of interests and opportunities to attract her attention and talents. Described as “lively and energetic to the last” by Carole Gerson in Dictionary of Literary Biography, her ambition and adventurousness are most distinctly evident in her choices and actions. Even upon discussing her first published poem, suggestively entitled “Remorse,” one can perceive her uppity demeanor and pleasantly sarcastic personality.
In 1908, Florence married John Frederick Bligh Livesay, a reporter, but he died in 1944. Florence had three children - Dorothy, Sophie and Arthur Randall.