Government of Canada unveils Viola Desmond plaque


Rev. Dr. Peter J. Paris, former Lt.-Gov. Mayann Francis, and Immigration Minister and Central Nova MP Sean Fraser admire the Viola Desmond plaque

Sean Fraser, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship and Member of Parliament for Central Nova, has commemorated the national historic significance of Viola Desmond with a plaque unveiling ceremony at the former Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia.

Viola Desmond, an African Canadian business woman, brought national attention to the African-Nova Scotian community’s struggle for equal rights after being violently arrested for sitting in the “whites only” section of a New Glasgow movie theatre.

In November 1946, while travelling on business from Halifax to Sydney, Nova Scotia, car trouble forced Desmond to stop overnight in New Glasgow, where she decided to see a film at the Roseland Theatre. Unaware of the theatre’s segregated seating rules, she attempted to purchase a ticket in the floor section – the theatre’s “whites only” section. When she was informed that the theatre would only sell her a balcony ticket, she took a seat on the floor anyway. Police were called on-site and forcibly removed Desmond. She was arrested, held in jail overnight, and then charged, tried, and convicted with tax evasion.

That charge, based on the one cent difference in tax between floor and balcony seats, was the only possible legal justification for her imprisonment. Her appeal to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia was unsuccessful but attracted nation-wide attention to the African-Nova Scotian community’s struggle for equal rights.

Despite the outcome of her legal case, Desmond’s act of resistance against anti-Black racism has come to represent a turning point in the struggle for equal rights in Canada.

Viola Irene Desmond

Unveiling the plaque, Minister Fraser said: “On behalf of the Government of Canada, I am honoured to commemorate the national historic significance of Viola Desmond. Through her courage, and an unwavering commitment to equal rights, she helped shape our country and improve life for all Canadians. Her legacy is as important today as it has ever been, as we continue the work to combat racism. I encourage all Canadians to learn more about Viola Desmond’s significant role in our country’s history.”

  • Viola Desmond was born in Halifax, on July 6, 1914. After she graduated from high school, she taught in segregated schools for African-Canadian students.
  • Viola Desmond attended the Field Beauty Culture School in Montréal, one of the few schools accepting African-Canadian students at the time, and went on to train in New York before she opened ‘Vi’s Studio of Beauty Culture’ in Halifax.
  • An entrepreneur, she sold beauty products for African-Canadian women that had previously been unavailable to Nova Scotians and provided career training.
  • In 2010, the Government of Nova Scotia issued Viola Desmond an apology and a posthumous pardon.
  • In 2016, the federal government announced that Viola Desmond would be featured on Canada’s regularly circulating $10 bank note.