QUEBEC – Pauline Johnson, a gifted writer and speaker from, Six Nations was one of five finalists who would be the first woman to appear on a Canadian banknote, but on Thursday Dec. 8 after much deliberation, the Bank of Canada selected Viola Desmond as the winner.
Desmond, often described as Canada’s Rosa Parks for her 1946 decision to sit in a whites-only section of a Nova Scotia movie theatre, will be the new celebrated face after being selected out of an astonishing 26,000 submissions.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau says Desmond will appear on the front of the $10 bill when the next series goes into circulation in 2018.
“Today is about recognizing the incalculable contribution that all women have had and continue to have in shaping Canada’s story,” says Morneau at a news conference in Gatineau, Que. “Viola Desmond’s own story reminds all of us that big change can start with moments of dignity and bravery.
“She represents courage, strength and determination-qualities we should all aspire to every day.”
The following is an excerpt from Black History Canada’s website about Desmond’s experience:
Born and raised in Halifax in 1914, Desmond trained as a teacher but soon joined her husband Jack in a combined barbershop and hairdressing salon, a beauty parlour on Gottingen Street. While expanding her business across the province, Viola went to New Glasgow in 1946.
In New Glasgow, Desmond developed car trouble and decided to go to the movies while repairs were made. She bought a ticket, entered the theatre and took a seat on the main floor, unaware that tickets sold to African Canadians in this town were for the balcony and the main floor was reserved solely for White patrons. Theatre staff demanded that she go to the balcony, but she refused, since she could see better from the main floor. The police were summoned immediately and she was dragged out, which injured her hip. She was charged and held overnight in jail; she was not advised of her rights.
Maintaining her dignity, Desmond remained sitting upright, wearing her white gloves (a sign of sophistication and class at the time). The following morning, despite not having done anything wrong, she paid the imposed fine of $20. Besides being fined, she was charged with defrauding the Government of Nova Scotia of the difference in the tax between a ground floor and a balcony seat, which amounted to one cent.
While discussing the incident with the doctor who tended to her, Desmond decided to fight the charges. Clearly, the issue was about her being African Canadian and there being a racist seating policy in place; it was not about tax evasion.
In taking the matter to the courts, Viola Desmond’s experience helped to galvanize public opinion locally and internationally, and to raise awareness about the reality of Canadian segregation.
Eligible nominees had to have Canadian citizenship and had to have been dead for at least 25 years. The final five were; Pauline Johnson; Elsie MacGill; Idola Saint-Jean; Fanny Rosenfeld; and the winner, Desmond.