Although it was nine years earlier, Viola Desmond’s 1946 act of defiance won her the moniker “Canada’s Rosa Parks.” Before Parks’ famous refusal in 1955 to give up her seat in an “all-white” section of a bus in Alabama, a protest that spurred the budding civil rights movement, Desmond had refused to give up her seat in a whites-only section of movie theater in Canada's eastern province of Nova Scotia.
Arrested and fined, Desmond’s defiance may have been condemned to the dust bin of history had it not been for her sister, Wanda Robson, who was instrumental in making Desmond's story more widely known. And now, Desmond will become the first woman besides Queen Elizabeth to grace a Canadian bill, allowing her legacy to reach the fingertips of all Canadians.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced Thursday that Desmond will appear on the front of the CDN$10 bill when the next series goes into circulation in 2018.
"Today is about recognizing the incalculable contribution that all women have had and continue to have in shaping Canada's story. Viola Desmond's own story reminds all of us that big change can start with moments of dignity and bravery," Morneau told reporters at a news conference in Gatineau, Quebec. "She represents courage, strength and determination — qualities we should all aspire to every day."
Robson was also on hand for the announcement.
"It's a big day to have a woman on a bank note, but it's an especially big day to have your big sister on a bank note,'' she said. "Our family is extremely proud and honored."
With over 26,000 submissions for the public inquiry, the whopping list was later whittled down to 461 eligible nominees, all individuals that had Canadian citizenship and who have been dead for at least 25 years.
"She believed you could only be successful in life with an education, especially if you were a young Black person," Robson said. "If I used bad grammar, she always corrected me — in a nice way, of course — all the time.
"If you wanted another lady, other than the Queen, to be on the bill, you've chosen the right person," she added. "At least, I think so."