In 1941, members of the Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers’ Union Ladies Auxiliary of Kirkland Lake, Ont. marched through town demanding better wages and safer conditions for their husbands. Provincial police were called in to break up the demonstrators, but their legacy marched on.
Nanaimo playwright Jennifer Wynne Webber tells the story of the women behind the Kirkland Lake march in her play With Glowing Hearts: How Ordinary Women Worked Together to Change the World (And Did). TheatreOne is debuting an all-new full-length version of the two-year-old play at Malaspina Theatre from Wednesday, April 11 to Saturday, April 14.
The work was originally commissioned by a University of Saskatchewan sociologist who was studying the ladies auxiliary movement and wanted to bring the story to a larger audience. That brought her to Webber, a past collaborator.
“Basically, she threw me piles of research, I looked at it, saw the research, saw the images and decided, yes, there is a story there…” Webber said.
“I saw this image of the march of women and children in 40-below. It stretched back about two miles and I just said, ‘Oh my God, I want to find out who were these women.’”
The play focuses on four characters based on real and imagined women’s auxiliary members as they live through the experiences of 1941 and ‘42 and come to realize their own power and the change they effected, although they may not have known it at the time.
Following previews, With Glowing Hearts debuted at the 2016 Saskatoon Fringe Theatre Festival and after a successful run was named ‘Best of the Fest.’ Webber said wives of potash miners were coming up to her, touched by the performance. A theatre group in Calgary has staged an abridged production and it was more recently announced that an award-winning off-Broadway theatre will do a staged reading of the play in New York later this month.
To make the 75-year-old story relevant and avoid turning the play into a history lesson, Webber focused on the people involved and “how they took defeat and turned it into triumph over time.”
“The world didn’t change that day. In fact, one of the things that fascinated me about the story was that it seemed for a while that they lost,” Webber said of the march.
“They lost the strike, they were crushed, many of them had to disperse … because, in fact, they lost their battle. But they won in the long run and they never let up and that’s the thing that really got me about these women.”
WHAT’S ON … With Glowing Hearts: How Ordinary Women Worked Together to Change the World (And Did) comes to Malaspina Theatre from Wednesday, April 11 to Friday, April 13 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, April 14 at 2 and 7:30 p.m. General admission is $29, $15 for students. Available at www.theatreone.org.