LIVINGSTON, JOHN, newspaperman; b. 1 Feb. 1837 in Richibucto, N.B., son of Henry Livingston, a local official, and Isabella Wheten; m. 17 May 1866 Anna Maria B. Armstrong in Saint John, N.B., and they had four sons and four daughters; d. 10 Feb. 1894 in Montreal.
John Livingston’s family moved to Shediac while he was still young and it was here that he learned telegraphy. Transferred to Saint John by the New Brunswick Telegraph Company, he soon embarked upon a career in journalism with William Elder*’s Colonial Presbyterian and Protestant Journal. In October 1859 he asked Provincial Secretary Samuel Leonard Tilley to support his application for the position of “Messenger of the House of Assembly,” describing himself as “of the same political opinion with yourself.” His quest for government office was unsuccessful, as it would be throughout his life.
In July 1860 Livingston informed Tilley that he intended to launch “a morning paper in the interest of the govt.” Although the establishment of this journal was delayed until 1862, Livingston in the mean time served as editor of the short-lived Temperance Banner for roughly a year and also was employed by George Edward Fenety’s Morning News. Evidence suggests a growing financial dependence on Tilley at this time; for example, in July 1862 he asked Tilley to co-sign a note for $150. By September 1862, with his own savings and his father’s assistance, Livingston was able to bring out the first issue of the Morning Telegraph. It began as a tri-weekly paper and he was editor and owner.
Livingston’s skilful and imaginative journalistic approach would earn him his niche as the father of modern journalism in Saint John. The reproduction of British and American news, previously the mainstay of New Brunswick newspapers, was lessened in favour of local news gathered in Saint John or by telegraph and roving reporter throughout the province. Circulation was enhanced by canvassing efforts touching all three Maritime colonies and by an offer of free one-year magazine subscriptions to individuals organizing “a club” of 20 subscribers. Livingston soon developed a reputation as a knowledgeable and blunt commentator. His newspaper would take positions on issues such as the Western Extension railway, confederation, the intercolonial railway, the Baie Verte canal and, above all, the development of Saint John as the manufacturing and general metropolitan centre of New Brunswick.
It was the confederation issue which was paramount in the mid 1860s and the controversy almost ruptured the Tilley–Livingston relationship. The Telegraph became a daily in the summer of 1864 and is generally portrayed as being totally favourable to confederation. However, Livingston was suspicious of Canadian proposals, informing Tilley after the Charlottetown conference: “I only hope that in this Canadian business you and the other Lower Province Delegates may not find yourselves deceived in the end. For my part I have no faith whatever in Canada’s ‘good intentions’ towards us.” His paper tentatively endorsed the anti-confederation position on some issues and even attacked the Maritime delegates who “sold us to the Canadians.” Livingston’s dilemma was that the switch to daily status had been expensive and his major financial backers were supporters of confederation. By early 1865, when Tilley fought his unsuccessful first election for union with the Canadas, the paper was firmly on the confederation side. It would remain so during the successful second campaign in 1866. Meanwhile financial problems continued to mount for Livingston and in writing to Tilley he attributed some of them to his overzealous commitment to confederation, which had caused him to borrow from Tilley’s agent, John Boyd, in order to promote the scheme in his paper. R. G. Dun and Company had assessed his difficulties more accurately in June 1865, reporting that he was “getting on fairly, but dont understand financiering, & neglects his cr.” After a year as a daily, the Telegraph became a tri-weekly again and in July 1869 it merged with William Elder’s Morning Journal to form the St. John Daily Telegraph and Morning Journal. Livingston remained the proprietor and Elder became editor. In 1871, however, he was forced to sell out to Elder for $30,000. Using these funds, Livingston launched the Daily Tribune but he resigned as editor and on 18 Sept. 1872 was forced into bankruptcy.
Under this cloud he fled to Moncton where he surfaced in 1873 as editor of the Moncton Times. By 1875 he was back in Saint John and had established a weekly entitled the Watchman. Elder’s Telegraph had adopted an energetically Liberal editorial policy, and Livingston opened a correspondence with Sir John A. Macdonald which frequently referred to the need for a Conservative daily in Saint John. In June 1877, however, the Watchman and everything Livingston possessed were wiped out by the great fire. Once again, his temporary refuge was Moncton, where he joined Henry Thaddeus Stevens as joint editor of the Times. The destitute Livingston now coupled arguments concerning upholding “‘the Standard’ for our side pretty well” with the reality that “of course, we cannot have the influence here that a Daily in St. John would have.” The restoration of a Conservative daily in Saint John, with Livingston as editor, would be one way the party could repay the tremendous losses he had suffered on its behalf. The time was right since an election was approaching and Tilley needed all the political support that could be marshalled. The Daily Sun was established in Saint John in 1878 and by September John Livingston had been installed as editor.
The Conservative triumph of that year and the introduction of the National Policy in 1879 were applauded by Livingston, and it seemed as if prosperity had finally arrived for the often unfortunate editor. Instead financial problems continued to hound him, his health deteriorated, and he begged for a government appointment. The best the party could offer in 1883 was the editorship of the Montreal Herald and Daily Commercial Gazette. During his four years in that post, Livingston lost his wife and was left to manage his eight children alone. His position became increasingly “irksome” and he made clear to Macdonald that he wanted to relinquish the editorship as soon as possible.
A measure of the journalistic reputation that Livingston continued to enjoy is found in his being appointed editor late in 1887 of the Toronto Empire, a newspaper that was expected to be the major Conservative organ in the country. He plunged enthusiastically into his new duties but a little over 12 months later, allegedly because of his poor health, he was abruptly dismissed. He sought medical treatment in Boston and in March of 1889 asked Macdonald for a government appointment. In the same month he wrote to Tilley, begging his intervention. Such pleadings paid off when Livingston was appointed manager of the Calgary Herald in December 1889. His health and financial problems continued and so in January 1892 he unsuccessfully solicited the post of immigration officer for Calgary. Although the salary was small, he acknowledged, “the work is light in winter, and I can arrange so that I can go on with some literary work I contemplate.” In late August his name disappeared from the mast-head of the Calgary Herald and towards the end of 1893 he reappeared in Montreal with a scheme for a weekly financial newspaper, a rather ironic choice in view of his own record. The faithful Tilley responded with some help for the venture but the paper never appeared: John Livingston died of pneumonia on 10 Feb. 1894 after a brief illness.
In his categorization of the journalists of this era, historian Paul Rutherford has placed at the bottom “a gaggle of marginal publishers and hack writers whom fate . . . treated unkindly.” It would be easy to place Livingston in their ranks. He himself wrote of the sad “position of party newspaper writers in Canada. The future of literary men who give the prime of their life to party services in Canada is a dismal one. They have few or no opportunities to make or save money. Salaries are small and there are no perquisites. They have either to remain in the Press, with its ups and downs, or eventually accept some small office from the Govt which may not be suitable.” His own “downs” far outnumbered the “ups,” and his financial shortcomings were all too obvious. None the less his journalistic abilities, particularly in the early days of the Saint John Telegraph, earned him a provincial and even a national reputation. His career is also important because of the light it sheds upon the precarious and largely unrewarding nature of party journalism for some practitioners of the art in late-19th-century Canada.
Baker Library, R. G. Dun & Co. credit ledger, Canada, 9: 295 (mfm. at NA). NA, MG 26, A, 265, 276, 347, 349, 360, 381, 441, 444, 446, 448, 459, 471, 474, 477–78, 528; MG 27, 1, D15, 7–9, 11–13, 15, 17–20; RG 31, C1, 1861, Richibucto (mfm. at PANB). N.B. Museum, Tilley family papers, boxes 4, 7, 9, 12. PANB, RG 3, RS551, bond 5314. Saint John Regional Library (Saint John, N.B.), “O” scrapbook, vol.6; W. O. Raymond scrapbook, vols.5, 11. Calgary Herald, 1889–92. Daily Sun (Saint John), 1878–83. Daily Telegraph (Saint John), 1864–65. Daily Tribune (Saint John), 1871–72. Empire (Toronto), 1887–88. Moncton Times(Moncton, N.B.), 1877–78. Montreal Daily Star, 12 Feb. 1894. Morning Telegraph (Saint John), 1862–69, later St. John Daily Telegraph and Morning Journal, 1869. Watchman (Saint John), 1875–77. Baker, Timothy Warren Anglin. C. L. Holland, “John Livingston: a biography of a journalist”