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Civil rights pioneer Viola Desmond is first Canadian woman on currency

Viola Desmond

Black Women in History

Civil rights pioneer Viola Desmond is first Canadian woman on currency


Viola Desmond, who refused to leave whites-only section of theatre, chosen for Canadian $10 notes


A black woman who refused to leave the whites-only section of a Canadian movie theatre in 1946 – nearly a decade before Rosa Parks’s act of defiance – has been honoured on the country’s newest $10 bill.

Civil rights pioneer Viola Desmond was selected from the more than 26,000 submissions that rolled in after the Bank of Canada announced plans to put a Canadian woman on the country’s regularly circulating currency for the first time.

Born in 1914, Desmond rose to prominence as an entrepreneur, selling her own line of hair and skin products at a time when few local beauty schools accepted black students.

The new Canadian $10 bank note.
 The new Canadian $10 banknote. Photograph: Handout/Reuters

After being forced to travel to Montreal, Atlantic City and New York for training, she returned to Halifax and opened a beauty school aimed at offering black people a local option for training.

The incident that would propel her into Canada’s history books took place in 1946 after her car broke down in New Glasgow, some 100 miles north-east of Halifax, while on a business trip.

Looking to kill time while her car was being repaired, she stopped by a local movie theatre. It was a segregated space – floor seats were for white people while black people were relegated to the balcony.

Desmond, who was shortsighted, tried to buy a floor seat but was refused. So she bought a ticket for the balcony, where tax on the seats was one-cent cheaper, and sat in the floor area anyway.

She remained there until police arrived. Desmond was dragged out of the theatre …


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I am a future butterfly at the stage of growth when I am turning into an adult. I am enclosed in a hard case shell formed by love, family, and friends. It is the hardest stage of becoming a black butterfly. You will encounter many hardships only to come out stronger and better than what you went in. At this stage, you are finding out who you truly are and how to love yourself.

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