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William Jarvis McCurdy was born in Quebec in 1904, son of the Reverend James Farquarhar McCurdy and Amelia Palmer McCurdy. Following in his father's footsteps, McCurdy was educated at Dalhousie University, receiving his BA in 1926. He earned an MA (1927) and PhD (1929) in philosophy from Harvard, then spent three years teaching at McMaster University before being recruited by the philosophy department at the University of Toronto. He remained there until his retirement in 1969.
McCurdy was active in social and political causes, including the Fellowship for the Christian Social Order (FSCO) and the Workers' Education Association (WEA). He served as a national president for the League for Social Reconstruction (LSR), and later ran for office as a Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) candidate. He was a longtime member of the First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto and was lifetime president of Dalhousie's Class of 1926. In 1929 he married Avis Marshall, with whom he raised four children. He died in 1988.