Black Nova Scotian woman to grace a new $10 bill

Wanda Robson with her sister, Viola Desmond’s image in the back of her

Viola Desmond, often described as Canada’s Rosa Parks for her decision to sit in a whites-only section of a Nova Scotia movie theatre 70 years ago, will be the first woman other than the Queen  to be celebrated on the face of a Canadian banknote.

Canada’s Finance Minister Bill Morneau says Desmond will grace the front of the $10 bill when the next series goes into circulation in 2018.

Former prime minister Sir John A. Macdonald, now on the $10 bill, will be moved to a higher denomination.

“ Viola Desmond’s own story reminds all of us that big change can start with moments of dignity and bravery,” Morneau told a news conference in Gatineau, Quebec on Thursday.

“She represents courage, strength and determination—qualities we should all aspire to, every day,”  he said.

In November 1946, Desmond  refused to leave her seat in the whites-only section of a segregated movie theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, and police were called in.

She was forcibly removed from the Roseland Theatre, spent the night in jail and was eventually convicted of defrauding the province of a penny, which was the difference in price between the main seating area and the balcony, where blacks were supposed to sit.

Desmond paid a $20 fine in addition to the theatre’s $6 court costs, but she later rallied the black community in Halifax as she launched an appeal of her conviction.

However, the Nova Scotia Supreme Court dismissed her application for judicial review in 1947. Desmond eventually left Nova Scotia and later died in New York City in 1965 at the age of 50.

Viola Desmond

Desmond’s sister Wanda Robson, who was instrumental in making Desmond’s story more widely known, was on hand for the announcement of the new currency bill.

“It’s a big day to have a woman on a bank note, but it’s an especially big day to have your big sister on a bank note,” she said. “Our family is extremely proud and honoured.”

Desmond was selected from a short list of five Canadian women by Minister Morneau, in accordance with the Bank of Canada Act.

Last  March, on International Women’s Day, Morneau and  Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

announced that the Bank of Canada would begin a search for a suitable woman to depict on the bill.

The Bank asked for suggestions, saying candidates had to be real (no fictional characters),

had to be Canadian citizens and had to have been dead for at least 25 years.

It also said it was looking for nominees who overcame barriers, inspired others or left a lasting legacy.

The Bank ‘s advisory council received more than 26, 000  submissions during a public call for nominations.

Even though Desmond has been compared to U.S. civil rights hero Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955, her story received little attention until recent years.

In April 2010, the Nova Scotia government apologized to Desmond and her family, 63 years after that fateful day in New Glasgow.

Mayann Francis, the province’s first black lieutenant-governor, granted a special pardon to Desmond in what the government said was the first time in Canada such a form of clemency had been posthumously awarded.

Darrell Dexter, the premier at the time, said the “offensive and intolerable” incident of racism affected all black Nova Scotians.

In February 2012, Canada Post produced a stamp to honour Desmond, and earlier this year, the City of Halifax announced that its newest harbour ferry would be named after her.