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Theatre Orangeville opens with Things My Fore-Sisters Saw

February 10, 2022   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

When Leslie McCurdy wrote The Spirit of Harriet, she told the Citizen that she never set out to write one person plays.

“I was doing another play but had a cease and desist from the playwright who didn’t realize there was another ten days. But I had a run and I couldn’t afford not to perform. So, I wrote Spirit in three weeks and memorized it in 2 days and the show is now in its 25th year,” said Ms. McCurdy. 

As for the restrictions of Covid – 19, “I self-isolate anyway. It’s the perfect way not to go out but I have made a vow to be more social when we come out of this…”

This was a three-way FaceTime interview with the Citizen, Leslie McCurdy and Artistic Director of Theatre Orangeville, David Nairn. Ms. McCurdy is bringing her play Four Things My Fore-Sisters Saw to Theatre Orangeville, opening March 3, 2022.

The play introduces audiences to four Black Canadian women who stood up for themselves as Black women and influenced Canadian history.

The journey is of these four women in her play and why these people? Because of their circumstances. Black history in Canada is something not easy to find.

Ms. McCurdy said, “A cousin of mine said, ‘Why don’t you do a play about four women in Canada?’ And I said, ‘There is such a thing?’”

Indeed, she found them and begins her set of stories with the French Marie-Joseph Angélique in Montreal, a bonded person who always railed to be freed. She was accused of starting a large fire in the city in 1734.

Viola Desmond graces the ten-dollar bill, which design is set as a vertical image, to show the turning of policy to be more inclusive, an official movement against racism. She had her Desmond School of Beauty Culture but made her mark on Canadian history by her specific resistance to the imposition of racism on her personal freedom.

People in Nova Scotia will know about Rose Fortune, who broke most of the rules and won respect from all sides for her honesty, reliability and initiative. Post mortem, she has been honoured in many ways – come and see the play to learn why.

Leslie McCurdy visited the University of Windsor to learn more about Mary Ann Shadd, the first Black woman in Canada and the first Black woman in North America to establish a newspaper, which she did in Windsor: the Provincial Freeman. A statue to honour her will stand outside the Windsor Hall, formerly home to the Windsor Star newspaper.

“I pulled together a speech from her writing,” Ms. McCurdy said. “But there were so many big words, too many in a sentence and it was so hard to say them that I re-wrote it in a different fashion.”

“These are four incredible women,” said David Nairn. “It’s delightful to share your Desmond on the $10. The bill also has the Canadian Museum of Human Rights.

Ms. McCurdy had the answer to the diverse format of the bill: “It’s turned to show our intention to be the leaders in our approach to human rights. I’m trying to tell about just that lack of awareness.”

The conversation turned irresistibly to the subject of continued racism and the fight against it in Canada.

Said Ms. McCurdy, “I am very proud that I convinced Cassel [Miles] to continue to do the Josiah [after he had stopped performing and thought he was done with acting], to go back to acting.”

Leslie McCurdy takes her show into schools. Theatre Orangeville intended to take Cassel’s show into schools but was blocked by the School Board insisting that using the N-word is a “tight no.”

Ms. McCurdy takes her show into schools in Orangeville in spite of that offending word being part of her dialogue, telling us, “I use it as part of what happens to me. That’s not a very nice word. I tell them where it comes from and why it should not be used. In a historical context, it is used to denote the villainy against Black people and for the sake of education, it’s still trying to portray Black men as slaves, lesser beings.

“The problem with our whole society is it’s all about the money,” she averred. “That image of Black men is still what makes money – there is a lot of really good rap out that talks about higher concepts but that Black image of a Black man as a labour is not good.”

Her ancestors, Nasa McCurdy and his three sons were Underground Railway escaped slaves from Pennsylvania. They came to Amherstburg. The McCurdy collection was a major settlement in the small town, noted for their intelligence. Her great grandmother owned a lot of property in Amherstburg and Ms. McCurdy herself is seventh generation Canadian. Her father is Dr. Howard Douglas McCurdy Jr., born in London, Ont. but moving to Amherstburg as a child with his family, earned a number of degrees culminating in a Ph.D. from Michigan State University in Microbiology and Chemistry. He returned home to Canada, to Windsor University, in due course becoming the first Black Canadian tenured faculty member in Canada.

Turning to politics, he was elected as Member of Parliament for the newly fledged New Democratic Party (NDP), the second Black Canadian to be elected to Parliament after Lincoln Alexander. Dr. McCurdy received many awards for his activism and public service, including being invested as a Member of the Order of Canada.

Leslie McCurdy is still told [by strangers] “to go back to across the ocean.”

“We’re so happy and blessed that you’re coming here,” David Nairn told her.

As reply to why audiences should be sure to catch her show, Things My Fore-Sisters Saw, Ms. McCurdy said, “I introduce a general survey of the Black history in Canada. Representation is important. To have any idea of where we come from is important; otherwise, we keep making the same mistakes.

For Theatre Orangeville, David Nairn confirmed, “What is our responsibility is to tell the stories of diverse cultures.” 

Things My Fore-Sisters Saw opens March 3 and runs to March 13. For tickets and information about Covid protocols, go to or call the Box Office at 519-942-3423.

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