Finance minister Bill Morneau announced today that Nova Scotian civil-rights activist Viola Desmond will be celebrated on the face of the Canadian ten dollar bill. For her remarkable contributions to the story of human rights in our country, Desmond will be honored with a place on our currency starting in the year 2018.
As a young woman Desmond noted an absence of beauty products catered towards black women, and sought to corner the market in Nova Scotia. She was unable to study at beauty schools in Halifax because of the city's segregation laws, so she moved to New York and attended the Madam CJ Walker beauty school there. Upon finishing her education, Desmond returned to Halifax and opened her own hair salon.
In an effort to educate young, black Canadian women, Desmond opened her own beauty school as well, called The Desmond School of Beauty Culture. Knowing first hand how difficult it was to travel in pursuit of an education, Desmond opened the school hoping to inform Canadians who had been denied the right to study at all white schools. Through her school, Desmond not only equipped women with the skills required to practice as a beautician, but also taught her students how to run and grow a business.
In 1946 while on a business trip in New Glasgow, Desmond attended a screening of The Dark Mirror at the segregated Roseland Film Theatre. After taking her seat on the auditorium's main floor, Desmond was informed by the manager that she would have to go sit in the balcony. Desmond refused, informing him that the ticket she had been sold was for a main floor seat. For refusing to move Desmond was forcibly removed from the theatre and arrested. She was kept in jail overnight and was never able to speak with a lawyer or told what her charges were.
Ultimately Desmond was charged with tax evasion, for the one cent difference between a main floor and balcony seat. She paid her fine of $20 in court and headed back to Halifax. Upon her return, Desmond consulted her community for advice on how to approach the situation. With the help her church and the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NSAACP), Desmond unsuccessfully filed a lawsuit against the Roseland Theatre. Desmond closed her Halifax business after the case, and moved to work in Montreal.
Desmond's unfair case would be instrumental to the deconstruction of segregation laws in Canada. In 2010, 0ver sixty years after the incident, the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia Mayann Francis invoked something called the Royal Prerogative, and gave Desmond a posthumous pardon - the first of its kind to be granted in Canada. For her brave contribution to our country's history, both as an educator and a civil rights activist, it should make all of us proud to see Viola Desmond on the face of our ten dollar bill.