Black History Month Makes Us Reflect On Viola Desmond And Our $10 Bill

By Larry Ellis

Look at the new Canadian $10.00 bill  in your wallet or purse – on one side you see a picture of the Museum of Human Rights :- on the other side you will see a portrait of Viola Desmond.. The bill is unique as the pictures are vertical: all other bills are horizontal.

Viola Irene Desmond (July 6, 1914 – February 7, 1965) was a Canadian Black Nova Scotian businesswoman and a cosmetics pioneer for black women in Atlantic Canada. Following in the footsteps of her father, a Halifax barber, Ms. Desmond started out in business at a time when few beauty schools would accept black students. After training in Montreal, Atlantic City and New York, she founded her own institution, Halifax’s Desmond School of Beauty Culture, selling her own line of hair and skin products across Nova Scotia. But on one business trip on Nov. 8, 1946, when her car broke down in New Glasgow, Ms. Desmond would become famous for another reason.

Viola Desmond challenged racial segregation at a cinema in New GlasgowNova Scotia, in 1946. She refused to leave a whites-only area of the Roseland Theatre  and was convicted of a minor tax violation for the one-cent tax difference between the seat she had paid for and the seat she used which was more expensive. Desmond’s case is one of the most publicized incidents of racial discrimination in Canadian history and helped start the modern civil rights movement in Canada.

Each individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination……….Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, section 15.