Viola Desmond will be the first Canadian woman on the front of a banknote

The civil rights icon fought racial segregation in Nova Scotia.

by Rachel Browne
Dec 8 2016, 12:01pm

A black civil rights pioneer, Viola Desmond, will become the first woman other than the Queen of England to be featured on the front of Canadian currency.

Desmond’s image will appear on the $10 note, with the new notes to go into circulation in 2018.

“It’s a big day to have a woman on a banknote,” Desmond’s sister, Wanda Robson, said Thursday during the announcement. “If you wanted another lady, other than the queen, to be on the bill, you’ve chosen the right person.”

“She would be so very proud.”

Nine years before Rosa Parks made history by refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man in Alabama in 1955, Desmond, a successful entrepreneur who owned a beauty salon, was arrested in her home province of Nova Scotia after she wouldn’t leave the whites-only section of a movie theatre.

She was convicted and fined, but she fought to have the charges reversed and became the first black woman in Canada to legally challenge racial segregation.

Though her case ended up getting dismissed in 1947, her actions served as legal precedent for future civil rights battles and inspired future generations of black Canadians. She died in 1965 at the age of 51. She received a posthumous pardon in 2010 by the Nova Scotia government, as well as a public apology for the charges.

“Today is about recognizing the incalculable contribution that all women have had and continue to have in shaping Canada’s story,” finance minister Bill Morneau said at the press conference. “Viola Desmond’s own story reminds all of us that big change can start with moments of dignity and bravery.”

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — a self-described feminist, who put together Canada’s first gender-equal federal cabinet — announced that his government was searching for an “iconic” Canadian woman to feature on a banknote.

There were more than 26,000 submissions from the public. Desmond was chosen from a shortlist of five other prominent Canadian women, including Olympic gold medalist Bobbie Rosenfeld and suffragette Idola Saint-Jean.

Desmond will replace John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, on the $10 note.

Civil Rights
racial segregation
Bank of Canada
Canada currency
Viola Desmond
Wanda Robson