Desmond’s sister, Wanda Robson, stole the show. Now in her 90s, Robson captivated the Halifax audience with her genuine delight at seeing her sister on Canadian currency. (Canadian Press)

Canada unveils new $10 bill featuring black businesswoman

Viola Desmond refused to leave a ‘whites-only’ section of a segregated movie theatre in Nova Scotia

Viola Desmond’s trailblazing act of defiance — overlooked for decades by most Canadians — was honoured Thursday in a Halifax ceremony that cemented her new status as a civil rights icon.

A new $10 bill featuring Desmond was unveiled by Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz.

The purple polymer bill — the first vertically oriented bank note issued in Canada — includes a portrait of Desmond and a historic map of north end Halifax on one side and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg on the other.

“It was long past time for a bank note to feature an iconic Canadian woman,” Poloz told the large crowd gathered at the Halifax Central Library on International Women’s Day despite a blustery snowstorm and flickering power. “That’s been a goal of mine since I became governor.”

Morneau said the deck was “doubly stacked” against Desmond because of her gender and the colour of her skin. He said she stood up for what she believed in and helped make the country a better place.

“It’s an important story because it shows that standing up for what we believe, whether it’s on the steps of Parliament Hill or in a movie theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, can make our country and our world a better place for future generations,” he said.

“Her legal challenge galvanized the black community in Halifax’s north end and paved the way for a broader understanding of human rights across our country.”

The bill, which also features an eagle feather and an excerpt from the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, was met by a standing ovation.

Yet it was Desmond’s sister, Wanda Robson, that stole the show. Now in her 90s, Robson captivated the Halifax audience with her genuine delight at seeing her sister on Canadian currency.

“I was speechless,” she said describing her reaction to the bank note. “It’s beyond what I ever thought. It’s beautiful.”

Desmond becomes the first black person — and the first non-royal woman — on a regularly circulating Canadian bank note.

The bill marks a growing recognition of Desmond’s refusal to leave the whites-only section of a Nova Scotia movie theatre on Nov. 8, 1946 — nearly a decade before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Alabama — and the seminal role it played in Canada’s civil rights movement.

Desmond’s story went largely untold for a half-century, but in recent years she has been featured on a stamp, and her name graces a Halifax harbour ferry. There are plans for a park in Toronto and streets in Montreal and Halifax to bear her name.

Her story started with a business trip 71 years ago. Desmond, a beautician and entrepreneur from north end Halifax who sold her own line of cosmetics, was headed to Sydney, N.S., when her car broke down. Stuck in New Glasgow overnight, she decided to watch a movie at the Roseland Theatre.

The segregated theatre relegated black patrons to the balcony, while floor seating was reserved for whites. Desmond, who was short-sighted and could not see properly from the back, sat in the floor section and refused to leave.

She was dragged out of the theatre by police, arrested, thrown in jail for 12 hours and fined.

“Viola Desmond carried out a singular act of courage,” Saney said. “There was no movement behind her, she was ahead of the times.”

It would take 63 years for Nova Scotia to issue Desmond, who died in 1965, a posthumous apology and pardon.

The new bill is expected to enter circulation at the end of the year.

Robson refused to return her bill Thursday, prompting laughter from the audience. Morneau joked that even he doesn’t have the authority to take it back.

“You just can’t spend it between now and the end of the year,” he told her.

Brett Bundale, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Yellow Vest movement rallied in Vernon Saturday

Protesters took to the steps of the Vernon courthouse Saturday.

Column: Star Gazing: Binoculars for Christmas

Looking for a Christmas gift for your astronomer?

Christmas wish for Mirielle: love and carpets

Mirielle was born with misshapen back legs and after a tough life on the streets, is looking for a forever home.

Student view: Penticton senior dishes on high school life

Kevin Styba-Nelson is a Grade 12 student at Princess Margaret Secondary School

Vegan chocolatiers set up shop in Penticton

Celine Nativel and David Mullner, of Maison Mulnati French Vegan Chocolates, discuss their craft

Yellow Vest movement rallied in Vernon Saturday

Protesters took to the steps of the Vernon courthouse Saturday.

Boeser has 2 points as Canucks ground Flyers 5-1

WATCH: Vancouver has little trouble with slumping Philly side

Shuswap tennis club’s indoor facility construction moving at a smooth clip

Volunteer support has been crucial, opening expected in April 2019.

Yellow Vest movement rallied in Vernon Saturday

Protesters took to the steps of the Vernon courthouse Saturday.

Man dies after falling from B.C. bridge

Intoxicated man climbed railing, lost his balance and fell into the water below

B.C. animation team the ‘heart’ of new ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’

The animators, largely based in Vancouver, ultimately came up with a creative technique that is drawing praise

Light at the end of the tunnel for UN climate talks

Meeting in Katowice was meant to finalize how countries report their emissions of greenhouses gases

Janet Jackson, Def Leppard, Nicks join Rock Hall of Fame

Radiohead, the Cure, Roxy Music and the Zombies will also be ushered in at the 34th induction ceremony

Supreme Court affirms privacy rights for Canadians who share a computer

Section 8 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects Canadians against unreasonable search and seizure

Most Read