Who Is Viola Desmond? The First Canadian Woman To Be Put On the Canadian Banknote

Canadian civil activism pioneer Viola Desmond will soon become the first Canadian woman to have her portrait on the Canadian banknote. Viola Desmond is credited with helping kick-start the Canadian civil rights movement in 1946.

The new banknote will be released into the market in 2018 and will most likely be a polymer banknote with many countries moving to replace the regular cotton/linen paper notes with polymer notes, which have more security features.

What is so special about history? Well, many things but the most notable of them all is that history refuses to stay buried in the archives. It always comes back. And having Viola Desmond’s portrait on the new banknote is an excellent opportunity to educate people about an important person in Canadian history and civil rights.

Photo Source: Bank of Canada

Standing Up for What’s Right

In 1946, Viola Irene Desmond, a businesswoman and hairdresser, was traveling from Halifax to Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada when her car broke down in New Glasgow. Being told that the repairs would take some time, she decided to spend the time watching a picture in Roseland Theatre. Because she had poor eyesight, she requested a ticket for a seat in the front of the theater. Despite her request, the cashier gave her a ticket for a seat in the balcony that was reserved for the black people because the front of the theater was designated for whites.

Viola went to sit in the front of the theater, however, when the ticket taker came along, he told her that her ticket was for the balcony. When she went back to the cashier to question why she was given a ticket for the balcony when she had requested for one for the main floor seats, the cashier told her that he was not allowed to sell the main floor tickets to non-whites. This did not deter Viola Desmond from sitting on the main floor.

The intervention of the theater manager failed, and the police dragged her out of the theater and held her overnight in a police cell where Viola claims she sat bolted upright on the bench throughout the night. The following day, she was charged with defrauding the provincial government by refusing to pay the entertainment tax of one cent.

The current Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau, called Desmond a fantastic choice for the ten-dollar bill note and further said that she was a community leader, businesswoman, and a stout fighter against racial segregation in Canada.

Viola’s sister, Wanda Robson has hailed this as a great move saying that Desmond would have been proud to be on a banknote. Viola died at the age of 51 in 1965. Nine years later after Desmond’s theater ordeal, seamstress Rosa Parks would repeat almost the same thing in the USA when she refused to give up her seat to a white passenger in Montgomery.

More Women to be Featured on Banknotes

Viola Desmond is the first Canadian woman to be featured on a banknote in Canada, and for sure, there will be more. England has already dedicated an upcoming banknote of £10 in 2017 to Jane Austen, the famous novelist. America is also set to replace Andrew Jackson with Harriet Tubman, a slave abolitionist of the 19th Century, on the $20 bill.

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