The $10 bill featuring Viola Desmond will make its debut in 2018, when she becomes the first Canadian woman to be celebrated on the face of her country’s currency. “Viola Desmond’s own story reminds all of us that big change can start with moment of dignity and bravery,” Finance Minister Bill Morneau said as he unveiled the choice during a news conference in Gatineau, Que., on Thursday.
“She represents courage, strength and determination–qualities we should all aspire to every day.” Desmond, an icon of the human rights and freedoms movement in Canada, was selected from a short list of five iconic Canadian women by Minister Morneau, in accordance with the Bank of Canada Act. A successful Nova Scotia businesswoman, she is known for defiantly refusing to leave a whites-only area of a movie theatre in 1946. She was subsequently jailed, convicted and fined. Her court case was the first known legal challenge against racial segregation brought forth by a Black woman in Canada.
Viola Irene Desmond (July 6, 1914 – February 7, 1965) was a Black Nova Scotian businesswoman who challenged racial segregation at a film theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, in 1946. She refused to leave a whites-only area of the Roseland Theatre and was unjustly convicted of a minor tax violation used to enforce segregation. Desmond's case is one of the most publicized incidents of racial discrimination in Canadian history and helped start the modern civil rights movement in Canada. Desmond acted nine years before the famed incident by civil-rights activist Rosa Parks, with whom Desmond is often compared. Desmond was granted a posthumous pardon, the first to be granted in Canada. The government of Nova Scotia also apologized for prosecuting her for tax evasion and acknowledged she was rightfully resisting racial discrimination.
The legacy of Viola Desmond, right, who became a civil rights icon for her actions in the late 1940s, has been kept alive over the decades by her sister Wanda Robson, left.