In 1946, almost a decade before Rosa Park’s famous bus ride, another black woman seated herself in the whites-only section of a Canadian movie theater, and refused to move.
On Friday that women, civil rights pioneer Viola Desmond, was honored as being the first black Canadian woman to be placed on circulating currency.
Viola Desmond was born in 1914 and found success as an entrepreneur, selling her own line of skin and hair products, a huge feat during a time when very few businesses or banks would associate with a black person. She had a very hard time finding a beauty school that would accept her as a student or buy her products, so she traveled to Montreal and New York for her training, and then returned to her hometown of Halifax to open up a beauty school that focused on offering black people an option for learning the trade.
Civil Rights Movement
The incident which propelled her into Canadian history and helped start Canada’s civil rights movement took place in New Glasgow. While on a business trip, Viola’s car broke down. In order to kill some time while her car was being repaired, she decided to see a movie at the local theater. The theater was segregated: the floor seating was for white people only and the balcony was the designated space for blacks. Viola was short-sighted, so she tried to buy a floor seat so that she could actually see the movie, but the movie theater refused to sell it to her. She purchased a balcony ticket instead, which were once cent cheaper than the floor seats, but sat in the whites-only section anyway. The police were called, Desmond was arrested and spent 12 hours in jail.
Not only was Desmond arrested, but later that year she was charged with tax evasion because of the one-cent price difference between the ticket she purchased and where she actually sat. Her actions helped usher in Canada’s civil rights movement as well as the 1954 law in Nova Scotia that ended segregation. Viola Desmond died 9 years later. In 2010, more than six decades after she was arrested, Viola received the first posthumous pardon to be given in Canada. Mayann Francis, Nova Scotia’s first African lieutenant-governor apologized for prosecuting her for tax evasion.
The note is expected to enter circulation by the end of this year.