CFA or ‘Come From Away’ is an East Coast term given to anyone not born on the East Coast.
Prince Edward Island takes it one step further and bestows the moniker to anyone not born on the
Island itself. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve lived there or what great contributions you might
have made to the Province, if your first breath was not of Island air, then a CFA you would
My parents were born and raised on PEI but moved away shortly after they were married,
making me a first generation CFA. They were killed in a car accident when I was eight and the
Island that had only ever been “the place where Grandma lives” became my home. Whether it
was out of pity for my orphan status or respect for my Grandmother, I had no idea that I came
with a label. It wasn’t until I started high school that my name took on the notorious postnominal initials.
At first it was only a few whispers. Then one of the older boys came up with the idea to
replace the Styx’ lyrics of “Come Sail Away” to ‘Come From Away’ and took to singing the
musical refrain, “Come from away, Come from away, So get away from me,” whenever he was in
my vicinity. I was a sullen child who grew into an even more sullen teenager. If I had allowed
myself any sense of humor I likely would have appreciated his cleverness or even recognized
that the attention he was paying was a ruse to get me to notice him rather than the cruel torment I
took it to be. I knew the only reason I was on the Island was because of an unspeakable loss. I
blamed everyone, rejected any offerings of friendship or comfort and saw to it that my high
school years were miserable for all.
Mercifully, but by no means quickly, I outgrew my hatred of the world and everyone in it
but standing at the base of the steps of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Niagara District Secondary
School, known familiarly as NDSS, I could hear the ghosts of my past start in with, “I’ve come
from away…” and every fiber in my being, told me to run.
“Ms. James?” A male voice called a halt to my escape.
I looked up to see a large man weaving an easy descent against a sea of oncoming
students. No small feat given his size. The man was huge in every sense of the word and when he
finally reached me at the foot of the stairs, I had to shield my eyes against the sun to meet his
“Ms. James?” he asked again.
“Gerald Harvey,” he said, extending a hand that completely swallowed my own. “I’m the
principal here. I’m afraid … um … I understand you were supposed to meet Al Macie.”
“Yes, when I spoke with him on the phone, he said he’d meet me in front of the school.”
Principal Harvey surveyed the students, nodding greetings and offering smiles. He did so
with tremendous effort, however. Only an expert in pretending everything is fine when it’s not
would be able to pick up on it and, unfortunately for him, I was one such expert.
“Mr. Harvey, is everything all right?”
He looked at me and revved up his smile. “Just a busy morning. But know we’re very
happy to have you here, Ms. James. Bella. This is a wonderful opportunity for our students,” he
said, referring to the pilot project the Shaw Festival was running in co-operation with the school.
In addition to offering world class theatre, the Festival offered workshops to both
teachers and students throughout the school year and an acting intensive during the summer. This
season the Festival was trying out an Artist-in-the-Classroom program as a possible extension of
its already successful education series. Company members in various disciplines— design, acting, dance, and directing—would work in the classroom alongside a teacher at the school as a
means of enhancing the arts program. Al Macie was the teacher with whom I had been paired.
“Mr. Macie told me his students are very excited. I’m looking forward to meeting them,”
I said as convincingly as possible.
I had come aboard this project kicking and screaming, if truth be told. I was in no rush to
relive any of the high school experience. Even if this time I had some semblance of authority
behind me. Then there was question of scheduling. Unlike my previous season at the Festival
where I had opened my first show before my second even went into rehearsal, this season had me
rehearsing two shows simultaneously. The addition of two mornings every week at the school for
an eight week period had sent me into a full on panic.
“Oh yes, the students are thrilled about having Emma Samuel as one of their mentors,”
Principal Harvey said.
“I should have guessed,” I said, laughing.
Detective Emma Samuel was a role I’d played on the television series, Port Authority, for
many years and, in spite of the critical acclaim I had garnered on stage at the Shaw during the
previous season, Detective Samuel was who everyone saw when they looked at me.
An awkward silence fell over us.
“So, shall I wait here for Mr. Macie or—”
“Ms. James, we’ve had a little … um … There’s been… Perhaps you’d just better come