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Meet Viola Desmond
February 1, 2018 @ 8:00 am - February 28, 2018 @ 5:00 pm
Each year, we mark February by recognizing the outstanding contributions and lives of African Canadians.
In 2018, Viola Desmond will become the first Canadian woman to be featured on Canada’s $10 bill.
Honouring Viola is important because she fought for civil rights, justice and equality, and to reveal the racial segregation happening in Canadian communities.
Viola was an African Canadian who grew up in Halifax, Nova Scotia and trained as a teacher. She then worked with her husband at a barbershop and hair salon. One day in 1946, that business took her to New Glasgow. While there, Viola had some car trouble.
As repairs took place to her car, Viola went to the movies where she purchased a ticket and sat on the main floor. Viola was not aware that in that town at that time, African Canadians were only allowed to sit in the balcony. When theatre staff demanded she move, Viola refused. Police dragged Viola out of the theatre, without advising her of her rights, and they injured her in the process.
After she spent the night in jail, Viola paid a $20 fine. The courts charged her with defrauding the Nova Scotia government for the difference in tax between a ground floor and balcony seat. The difference amounted to about one cent.
Viola tried to fight the charges. The charge had nothing to do with fraud: It had everything to do with the colour of her skin.
This was nine years before Rosa Parks would famously refuse to give up her seat on that bus in Alabama! While she failed to have the charges reversed, Viola’s work alongside other civil rights leaders led to the abolition of segregation laws in Nova Scotia in 1954.
On top of all this, Viola was a great entrepreneur. She worked to improve her training, and launched a product line of cosmetic items for women of colour.
In 2010, the government granted a posthumous pardon to Viola – the first such pardon to be granted in Canada. The Nova Scotia government apologized for prosecuting her for tax evasion and acknowledged the truth: That Viola had been challenging racial segregation, and rightfully so.
We salute the work of Viola Desmond, all the powerful women who came before her. And, we support all those continuing to fight for justice and equality today.
July 6, 1914 – February 7, 1965