Minister of Finance Bill Morneau and Bank of Canada Governor Stephen S. Poloz, along with some special guests,
unveil the design of the new $10 bank note featuring Viola Desmond.
Background: A Bank NOTE-able Canadian Woman
Viola Desmond (1914–1965)
Viola Desmond remains an icon of the human rights and freedoms movement in Canada. A successful Nova Scotia businesswoman, she defiantly refused to leave a whites-only area of a movie theatre in 1946 and was subsequently jailed, convicted and fined. Her court case was one of the first known legal challenges against racial segregation brought forth by a Black woman in Canada.
As a middle-class Black woman in the 1930s and 1940s, Viola Desmond was always a trailblazer. From her early days as a school teacher, her ambition was to set up her own hairdressing business. The first hurdle was training. Beauty schools in Halifax restricted Black women from admission, so she travelled to Montreal, New York and New Jersey to pursue various courses, eventually receiving a diploma from the renowned Apex College of Beauty Culture and Hairdressing in Atlantic City.
In 1937, Desmond set up Vi’s Studio of Beauty Culture in Halifax, which became a gathering place for women in the community. But her vision didn’t end there. Within a few years, she established the Desmond School of Beauty Culture, which drew students from across Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Quebec. Another venture—manufacturing and marketing Vi’s Beauty Products—was also generating orders from across Nova Scotia. She had made positive inroads as both an entrepreneur and a role model in her community and was an inspiration to her clients and students alike.
Desmond’s perseverance, and the attention generated by her case, paved the way for a broader movement to recognize the importance of human rights in Canada.
Desmond received a posthumous free pardon from the Nova Scotia government on 15 April 2010. It was granted by then-Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia Mayann Francis, who was the first Black Nova Scotian and only the second Black person in Canada to hold this office. The pardon was accompanied by a public declaration and apology from then-Premier Darrell Dexter, who indicated that charges should never have been laid and that her conviction was a miscarriage of justice.
Though the events at the Roseland Theatre are now 70 years behind us, Desmond’s struggle for social justice and her singular act of courage continue to resonate with Canadians.
Source: Bank of Canada