Civil rights activist Viola Desmond will be the first woman, other than the queen, to be featured on a Canadian bank note.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau and the Bank of Canada announced the decision on Dec. 8. Desmond was chosen from a list of five finalists, who were chosen from 461 candidates.
“Today is about recognizing the incalculable contribution that all women have had and continue to have in shaping Canada’s story. Viola Desmond’s own story reminds all of us that big change can start with moments of dignity and bravery,” said Minister Morneau in a statement. “She represents courage, strength and determination—qualities we should all aspire to every day.”
Viola Desmond is often described as Canada’s Rosa Parks. A thriving Nova Scotia businesswoman in the 1930s-40s, she travelled to Montreal, New York, and New Jersey so that she could get her diploma in beauty and hairdressing. She established the Desmond School of Beauty Culture, a school that brought students together from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Quebec.
One day, as she was travelling for work, her car broke down in New Glasgow. She decided to take in a movie at the Roseland Theatre while waiting for repairs. She took her ticket and then went to sit down on the main floor of the theatre; however, she was told her ticket only provided access to the balcony. When she went to exchange ticket, she was told that African-Canadians were only permitted to sit on the balcony — the main floor was reserved for white patrons.
She decided to sit on the main floor anyways. When asked to move, she refused. She was dragged out of the theatre by police and held overnight in jail without being advised of her rights. She was charged and convicted of defrauding the Government of Nova Scotia (tax for ground floor and balcony seats differed by one cent) She was also fined $20.
Desmond decided to fight the charges and raise awareness about segregation in Canada. Ultimately, she failed to have her conviction overturned, but she did set a fire under the Black community in Nova Scotia and became an inspiration for change across the country.
Desmond died in 1965. She received a posthumous pardon from the Nova Scotia government in April 2010. She was also featured in Canada’s Heritage Minutes.
Desmond is a wonderful choice for the $10 bank note — her courage and dedication to civil rights is something to be celebrated. And Women’s Post is equally ecstatic that this new face is a woman, AND a woman of colour at that!
This change is part of a broader attempt by the Bank of Canada to integrate themes of social justice into their notes. The next $5 bank note will feature a different Canadian, and Sir. John A Macdonald and Sir Wilfrid Laurier will be moved to the higher bills. The Queen will keep her $20 bill.
Other finalists included Mohawk poet Emily Pauline Johnson, Olympic gold medalist Bobbie Rosenfeld, journalist and suffragette Idola Saint-Jean, and Canada’s first female engineer Elsie MacGill.
The new bills will enter circulation in 2018.