Toronto park named after Black civil rights activist

By Lincoln DePradine

Councillor Neethan Shan and members of the Congress of Black Women of Canada

A Toronto park has been named after Viola Desmond, the late Canadian businesswoman and civil rights activist.

The Viola Desmond Park (formerly Hupfield Park) is in the Malvern community in Scarborough.

“We have to applaud Viola Desmond for being the brave woman she was,’’ Nikki Clarke, former president of the Ontario Black History Society, said   on Monday at the park  renaming ceremony.

“Her act of defiance made her an icon of resistance for racial segregation in Canada. And, for that, we are proud and privileged today to have Viola Desmond Park.’’

Neethan Shan, who was elected last year to the City of Toronto as councillor for Scarborough-Rouge River, had moved a motion at a meeting of council, recommending renaming the park after Desmond.

“People like Viola Desmond has paved the way for a more equal society today; today, we stand more free and more equal because of the work of people like Viola Desmond,’’ Shan said in an address at Monday’s ceremony.

“One of the things I’m always concerned with, is that diversity needs to be reflected at all levels,’’ he explained.

“It needs to be reflected in the staffing, it needs to be reflected in the council, it needs to be reflected in the names of our streets, it needs to be reflected in the names of our schools, in our parks and so on; so, young people can feel their histories and their heritage, and their languages, and their ancestries are important and are acknowledged.’’

Desmond, an African-Canadian, was born in Nova Scotia and died in 1965. She was 50.

One of the things for which she is best known is for her 1946 action in which she refused to move from a whites-only seating area of a movie theatre.

In tribute to Desmond and her heroic action, her image will appear of the $10 Canadian bill later this year.

At the park-renaming ceremony were community members, representatives of the Congress of Black Women of Canada and students and teachers of three schools- Afro-Centric Alternative School, Sacred Heart Catholic School and Mary Shadd Public School.

The City of Toronto has allocated $200,000 to upgrade the park, which sits on more than three acres and includes a soccer field, baseball diamond and basketball facilities.

“The park is next to Mary Shadd Public School which is named after the first Black woman to publish a newspaper in North America.

Both women (Shadd and Desmond) worked to promote values of equality, justice and freedom,” Shan said.

“Malvern has been made into a vibrant community by the social, political, cultural and economic contributions of the Black community in this area. And, it’s important to have the names reflected.’’