The long awaited $10 dollar bill with the face of Civil rights activist, Viola Desmond is finally in circulation. Desmond becomes the first black person – and the first civilian (non royal) on a regularly circulating Canadian bill. The new bill, features a vertical portrait of Desmond and a map of Halifax’s historic north end, where she grew up.
The unveiling first came earlier in the year on International Women’s day in Halifax by Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz.
“Her legal challenge galvanized the black community in Halifax’s north end and paved the way for a broader understanding of human rights across our country.”
Morneu said to the crowd that had gathered at the Halifax Central Library.
Viola’s struggle begun in 1946, when she went into a segregated theatre in New Glasgow to watch a film. She ignored the racist practice by the theatre to relegate blacks to the upper balcony, nosebleed seats. The young, successful, black business owner decided to sit in the (White Only) lower seats as the theatre wasn’t as populated. After taking a seat Desmond was forcefully ejected from the theatre by its manager and a police offer. She was taken to jail where she spent the night, and was fined the next day in court.
Her treatment wasn’t out of the ordinary for Blacks in Canada in the 1940’s, but she decided she wouldn’t it let it go. She immediately enlisted the support of her community, Black church leaders and also the Nova Scotian affiliate of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Backed by her community, Black churches and advocacy groups she took to the press speaking to whoever would listen. Her protest caused an uprising and public dialogue and debates all across Nova Scotia. Her actions set the ball rolling for the removal of anti-segragation laws in Nova Scotia and other parts of Canada.
On Thursday 15 November, Desmond’s sister Wanda Robson was the first one to hold the note that featured her image. She was beyond herself with joy and was quoted as saying, “the bill evokes pride for her family and the African-Canadian community in general.”
She said she wants people to think about the incident itself when they touch the bill “and the ramifications of that act of courage, what it meant, what it escalated to and also the feeling of pride — of pride in her, of pride in themselves.”