Viola Desmond and Alvin D. McCurdy records feature in Canada Memory of the World Register 

Violet Archer

The Canadian Advisory Committee for Memory of the World is made up of experts who examine the applications and make recommendations to the Canadian Commission for UNESCO regarding collections that should be included in the Register.

UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme showcases the most meaningful documents in humanity’s heritage and history. Being included in the Canada Memory of the World Register underscores the importance and relevance of preserving documentary heritage.

The Register, which was created in 2017, promotes the immense diversity of Canada’s significant documentary heritage, which extends from the initial settling of the land by Indigenous Peoples up to the present time. Safeguarding the memory of the world now and into the future ensures universal access to our artistic, cultural, economic, geographic, linguistic, political, scientific, spiritual and identity-based heritage.

Now students, researches and the general public will have access to three new collections listed by the Nova Scotia Archives, the University of Alberta Archives and the Archives of Ontario. They are the records of three historical Black Canadians: Nova Scotian Viola Irene Desmond’s Court records, Ontarian Alvin D. McCurdy’s life records, and Albertan Violet Archer life records.

Viola Irene Desmond

Viola Irene Desmond (1914–1965) was an African Nova Scotian businesswoman and entrepreneur. While en route to Sydney on a business trip, she was forced to overnight in New Glasgow, NS. While attending the Roseland Theatre there, she refused to change her seat in the “whites only” section for one in the “coloured only” section and was jailed overnight and charged in the New Glasgow Magistrates’ court with tax evasion of 1 cent, the difference in tax between the two seating areas. On her return to Halifax, with the support of the newly formed Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, Desmond challenged her conviction in the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. This was the first known legal challenge by a Black woman in Canada against racial segregation and was a watershed moment for civil rights in Canada.

The importance of Viola Desmond’s legacy has been highlighted in recent years. In 2010, Desmond was the first person in Canada to be granted a posthumous free pardon. She was portrayed on a commemorative stamp issued by Canada Post in 2012 and in a Historica Canada Heritage Minute in 2016. In 2018, she became the first non-royal woman to appear alone on a regularly circulated Canadian bank note and was named a National Historic Person.

Alvin D. McCurdy (1916 – 1989) worked to preserve the heritage of the Black communities of Amherstburg and elsewhere in Southern Ontario at a time when traditional archives and other established institutions were only peripherally interested in Black history records. His years of collecting and preserving historical documents are both a testament to community activism and an enduring legacy for all those interested in the experiences of Black Canadians. The McCurdy fonds, housed at the Archives of Ontario, is one of the pre-eminent collections for understanding the histories and stories of Amherstburg’s role in the Underground Railroad and Black Canadians’ journeys and contributions to Canada at large.

Alvin D. McCurdy

The Violet Archer collection (circa 1920–2000) spans over seventy-five years and contains records of the composing, research, teaching and life experiences of a professor and internationally recognized composer of music. Violet Archer was a significant Canadian composer with a catalogue of some 335 works, which included compositions for orchestra, choir, organ and solo piano. The collection is fully arranged and described, with intact records that illustrate both professional and personal facets of her life and provide numerous research opportunities. The records encompass music history, composition and theory, as well as a women’s career path as a composer in North American society. This collection contains textual records, sound recordings, graphic materials and artwork.