Photo credit: Darren Calabrese/ The Canadian Press
In 1946, Viola Desmond refused to leave the whites-only section of a Nova Scotia theatre. Now, the civil rights pioneer is the first Canadian woman on a bank note, which has officially went into circulation.
Desmond’s courageous act of civil disobedience happened nearly 10 years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on an Alabama city bus in 1955. It went on to become one of the most significant moments in Canada’s modern civil rights movement.
“Viola Desmond was a successful Black businesswoman who was jailed, convicted and fined for defiantly refusing to leave a whites-only area of a movie theatre in 1946,” says the Bank of Canada website. “Her court case was an inspiration for the pursuit of racial equality across Canada. Viola’s story is part of the permanent collection at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.”
Photo credit: Shaina Luck/CBC
Nova Scotia issued Desmond both a posthumous apology and pardon in 2009, and seven years later, in 2016, Canada dedicated a bank note in her name. Desmond’s sister Wanda Robson accepted the posthumous honor on her sister’s behalf.
“It’s a giant step forward into knowledge about who we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re going,” Robson said. “There’s still a lot of work to be done, and I really hope that this bill will get not only children, but adults, to say, ‘who is that?’ And then people will be able to pass on what Viola did and the amazing differences she made.”