Viola Desmond: The First Woman, Black-Canadian to Grace a Canadian Banknote

Canada’s Finance Minister Bill Morneau stands with Wanda Robson, sister of Viola Desmond, during a ceremony at the Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec, Dec. 8, 2016.

How One Woman’s Broken-Down Car Changed the Course of History for Women’s and Minorities’ Rights

Civil rights activist Viola Desmond, who challenged racial segregation in Canada in the 1940s, will be the first Canadian woman to be featured on the country’s $10 banknote as announced by Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced Thursday, December 8, 2016. Viola Desmond will grace the ban note in 2018.

On the evening of November 8, 1946, Viola Desmond’s car broke down. When told it would take a day for the parts to become available to fix the issue, Mrs. Desmond decided to pass her time by seeing a movie at the local theater in New Glasgow.

After purchasing her ticket and claiming her seat on the main floor, she was notified by a manager that it was against their policy to provide main floor seating to blacks. The manager proceeded to redirect her to the balcony seating, to which she refused.

Mrs. Desmond, who is often referred to as the Canadian Rosa Parks, was then forcibly removed, causing bodily injury, jailed overnight, and subsequently charged with tax evasion (and fined the equivalent of $276.00) over the one-cent difference between the balcony and the main-floor seat tickets. Mrs. Desmond attempted to fight the case, however, the opposing attorneys redirected the matter from an issue of civil rights to one of tax evasion and thus were able to enforce a local statute to convict her despite her attorney and later Justice of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia Frederick William Bissette’s best efforts.

It wasn’t until sixty-four years later that Mrs. Desmond was posthumously granted an official free pardon by the Canadian government by way of invoking the Royal Prerogative – the first instance of such in Canadian history.

“Her story will remind all of us and future generations that big change can state with small moments of dignity and bravery.”Bill Morneau, Canada’s Finance Minister

Ten years later today, Canada’s announcement to change the face of the $10 note to that of Mrs. Desmond has manifested a notable mark of ideological achievement for women and minority rights. The United States is soon to follow suit.

Earlier this year, Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew announced that famed abolitionist figure Harriett Tubman would be replacing Andrew Jackson on the U.S. $20 bank note – an additional mark of advancement reflecting the nation’s espoused beliefs surrounding the paramount importance of equality, justice, and progression.

We have come quite far as a nation with regards to these tenets, however, we still have quite a ways to go. While the United States ranked number one with regards to women’s educational attainment in the most recent  Global Gender Gap Report, the World Economic Forum ranked the us 73rd among 144 countries for women’s political empowerment; behind the Philippines, Tunisia, and Ethiopia.

While  our country’s espoused and enacted beliefs seem to still need quite a bit of reconciling, this advancement marks a great day in history for women and minority rights and progression.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply


Stay in the Know with Walker's Legacy

Get events, news and more

And don’t worry, we hate spam too! You can unsubscribe at anytime.


Walker's Legacy is a growing global women in business collective founded to establish networks of empowerment and access for women of color in business.