New bill is vertical and
After months of anticipation, the Viola Desmond $10 bill has finally been unveiled in Halifax, her hometown.
The event took place on March 8, International Women’s Day, at the Halifax Central Library, with Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau, Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz and Desmond’s sister Wanda Robson on hand for the unveiling.
The bill, which will be in circulation by the end of the year, is unique in ways other than the first to have an African-Canadian woman’s face on it, because it’s vertical, unlike all other Canadian bills that have to be read horizontally.
It also features a historic map of Halifax’s north, capturing the stretch of Gottingen Street then the heart of the community where Desmond’s beauty salon was located.
And it carries an image of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, in Winnipeg, where Desmond’s story is part of the permanent collection; an image of a feather, to recognize rights and freedoms for Canada’s Indigenous Peoples and a paragraph from the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms: “Every individual is equal before and under the law.”
In November 1946, Desmond, then a fairly successful 32-year-old businesswoman, was on the road selling beauty products when her car broke down. While waiting for the repairs to be completed she went to the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow to take in a movie, “The Dark Mirror,” starring Olivia De Havilland.
She ended up seated in a section of the theatre that was reserved for whites and was eventually ordered by an usher to move.
She refused. A police officer was called and she ended up in jail.
Desmond was then taken to court with a trumped-up charge about not paying the full cost of her seat and was convicted.
She appealed her conviction and with the help of the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Colored People fought it all the way to Nova Scotia’s Supreme Court, but she lost all the way.
Her case and the stand that she took became a lightning rod in the struggle for desegregation and civil rights in Nova Scotia and eventually led to a dramatic shift on those issues in both the public and private sectors.
And it posthumously catapulted Desmond, who died in New York in 1965 at the age of 50, to acclaim as one of Canada’s most celebrated civil rights icons.
In 2010 she was granted a posthumous pardon and apology for her arrest and conviction. Today, she has a street in Halifax named after her as well as a ferry and was honored on a Canadian postage stamp in 2012. And she was the feature of the 82nd Heritage Minute by Historica Canada.
Viola’s sister, Wanda Robson, is one of the first Canadians to receive a copy of the new $10 bill. Her other sister, Emily Clyke, a former executive director of the Negro Community Centre, lives in Montreal.