John Livingston, naturalist and internationally renowned environmentalist, dies

The Faculty of Environmental Studies at York wishes to celebrate the many contributions and accomplishments of Professor Emeritus John Livingston, a key player in the development of the Faculty and prominent figure in biological conservation both in Canada and around the world. Professor Livingston passed away from a heart attack on the evening of Jan. 17 in his home on Saltspring Island, BC.


Born in Toronto, Professor Livingston’s University education was interrupted by the Second World War and his service in the Royal Canadian Navy. However, his excellent academic record earned him a BA (In-Service) in English from the University of Toronto. He built a career for himself in the field of biological conservation, working as a consultant and for many nonprofit organizations, including taking on the role of President of the Audubon Society of Canada (now Nature Canada) and co-founding LGL Limited, an internationally renowned environmental research company. An extraordinary birder and naturalist, he also worked extensively with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, playing a key part in the founding years of the TV show “The Nature of Things” and winning many awards for his documentary films. As a result of his extensive accomplishments, in 1970 he was invited to join FES.


At FES, Livingston represented both the ecological conscience and the insistence of academic excellent that were crucial in the development of the Faculty’s international reputation. His books Birds of the Northern Forest and Canada: A Natural History remain classics in the field of natural history and his The Fallacy of Wildlife Conservation and One Cosmic Instant have been pivotal in the development of environmental thought. In 1994 his Rogue Primate won the Governor-General’s Award for Nonfiction.


However, Livingston’s colleagues at FES emphasize that he was known not only for his intellect but also for his warmth and generosity. “He was this great bear of a man, who if you didn’t know him could be intimidating – especially because he could be pretty blunt,” said Professor Leesa Fawcett, who completed her master’s degree under Livingston’s supervision and is now the PhD Coordinator for FES. “But once you got to know him, his tremendous generosity and humour shone through.”


Another colleague’s tribute to Livingston has existed on the FES Web site for several months. The online profiles of FES faculty members asks them to answer the question “Whom do you admire most and why?” Professor Paul Wilkinson responded, “John Livingston: because he gives a damn.”


Wilkinson’s comment illustrates how Livingston’s analysis and advocacy inspired countless people to appreciate and understand the need to protect nature. FES has been flooded with messages from people wishing to honour and respect Livingston’s life and achievements. The many stories circulating about him clearly demonstrate that his influence is deeply felt and his legacy will continue to inspire people all over the world.  


Livingston is survived by his wife Ursula, daughter Sally, sons Zeke and Least, daughter-in-law Tina, grandchildren Bronwyn and Duncan, and sister Judith.