Viola Desmond’s Place in History.

I love her face the first time I saw her.

viola-desmond iconic photo

It was a week-long education series for The Voice of Our Members that Viola Desmond was introduced to us. Born and raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia. An African-Canadian woman.

The time was the year 1946 when segregation was the norm.

In New Glasgow, Desmond developed car trouble and decided to go to the movies while repairs were made. She bought a ticket, entered the theatre and took a seat on the main floor, unaware that tickets sold to African Canadians in this town were for the balcony and the main floor was reserved solely for White patrons. Theatre staff demanded that she go to the balcony, but she refused, since she could see better from the main floor. The police were summoned immediately and she was dragged out, which injured her hip. She was charged and held overnight in jail; she was not advised of her rights.

Maintaining her dignity, Desmond remained sitting upright, wearing her white gloves (a sign of sophistication and class at the time). The following morning, despite not having done anything wrong, she paid the imposed fine of $20. Besides being fined, she was charged with defrauding the Government of Nova Scotia of the difference in the tax between a ground floor and a balcony seat, which amounted to one cent.  ~ Canadian Encyclopedia: Viola Desmond

It was the voice of Ms. Demond’s sister, Wanda Robson, that started telling the story in 2003 with the help of her instructor, Graham Reynolds. Ms. Robson wrote a book about her sister’s experience titled: Sister to Courage.

Eventually, in 2010, the government of Halifax recognized a miscarriage of justice to Viola Desmond and that she should have never been charged. Premier Darrel Dexter made a public declaration and apology.  The government acknowledges their wrongdoing. Furthermore, hate and discriminatory actions will not be tolerated.

Many good things arose from the misfortune of Ms. Desmond. Her story helped shape, build, influence people of color in Canada, and slowly closing the gap on racial segregation.

Today, Canada is honoring Viola Desmond’s legacy on a $10 banknote; on one side her iconic photo and on the other side Canadian Museum for Human rights. She is the first black and non-royal woman featured on a banknote.

Viola Desmond $10 bill

It is quite fitting to unveil the note to coincide with the International Women’s Day.

9 thoughts on “Viola Desmond’s Place in History.

  1. What a wonderful story Perpetua – have never heard of her but love her courage and love the Canadian recognition of it with their banknote. Heart-warming all around.

    • Thank you. There were pockets of ‘history’ not just on blacks but as well as Chinese, Japanese, First Nations, East Indians, etc. Canada is slowly improving.

      • I know about the U.S. ban on Chinese immigrants, internment of Japanese, reservations for Indians. Not as familiar with Canada’s past.

      • Canada is not really big in history, but, I am. Looking at the curriculum of the school boards, it has very little role on education.

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