Viola Irene Desmond became a part of Canadian history for her defiant act in 1946 against a racist movie theater’s seating policy. While Desmond didn’t see justice during her lifetime, the Canada honored her in 2016 by making the late hairdresser and civil rights figure the face of its $10 bill.


Desmond was born July 6, 1914 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She had dreams of becoming a hairdresser but local schools refused to teach Black students. Desmond was forced to move to Montreal, New York City, and Atlantic City to complete her training. She returned to Halifax and opened her own hairdressing business with her husband, Jack Desmond.

On November 8, 1946, Desmond’s car was giving her trouble while traveling to the city of New Glasgow. While awaiting the repair, Desmond decided to pass the time by watching a movie at a local theater. After she settled in her seat, she was asked to leave her seat on the main floor and sit in the balcony section.

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Unbeknownst to her, the theater had a segregation policy and even taxed Black patrons while giving them poorer seating than whites. Desmond refused to leave her seat and was arrested.  During the arrest, her hip was injured.

The local NAACP, at first reluctant to take on her case, began representing Desmond. The case made it to Nova Scotia’s Supreme Court but Desmond and her legal team were not successful. Desmond died in 1965 while visiting New York. In 2010, the country pardoned Desmond posthumously.

In December of 2016, the country announced that Desmond will be the first woman to appear on Canadian currency, cementing her status as an important figure in Canada’s civil rights movement.


PHOTO: Public Domain

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