Who is Viola Desmond? The first Canadian woman to grace front of banknote


WATCH: Who is Viola Desmond? A look back at her life.

Viola Desmond will be the first Canadian woman to grace the front of a banknote.

So who was Viola Desmond?

Nine years before Rosa Parks refused to give her seat on a bus to a white passenger in Alabama, Desmond exhibited a similar act of defiance for the sake of human rights.

On Nov. 8, 1946, Desmond went to a movie at New Glasgow’s Roseland Theatre and after purchasing her ticket, she sat in the lower bowl. When the manager informed her that seating area was for white patrons only, she refused to leave.

A police officer forcibly removed her, she spent the night in jail and faced a criminal charge for not paying a tax of three cents for a downstairs ticket – one penny more than she had paid for her upstairs ticket.

Desmond was convicted, paid a $20 fine and $6 in other costs.

Viola later sought support from the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NSAACP) and acquired a lawyer. They made two unsuccessful applications for appeal to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court.

On April 15, 2010, the Nova Scotia lieutenant-governor granted her a posthumous pardon and official apology. The pardon recognized the conviction was in error, and that charges should not have been laid.

Desmond passed away in 1965.

Desmond’s sister, Wanda Robson, was in attendance and on stage Thursday to help make the announcement.

The decision to select Desmond to appear on a future banknote was made after much deliberation.

“We started by asking Canadians,” said Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz. “And let me tell you — they told us.”

The process engaged Canadians in a very personal way, Poloz said. They nominated women who had impacted their industry, such as sciences or arts, or their community or area of Canada, he said.

There were more than 26,000 submissions from Canadians, containing 461 eligible names. That list was then trimmed down to 12.

Finally, five women were shortlisted for the honour: Desmond, Emily Pauline Johnson/Tekahionwake, Elizabeth MacGill, Fanny Rosenfeld, Idola Saint-Jean.

Desmond will grace the front of the $10 bill when the next series goes into circulation in 2018.



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