Just months after the United States Treasury released that Harriet Tubman would replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, Canada has announced that black rights activist Viola Desmond will be the first Canadian woman to ever be printed on Canadian money.
Known as “The Rosa Parks of Canada,” Desmond was a woman of color who chose to fight back against racial discrimination in Nova Scotia.
In November, the Bank of Canada announced its shortlist of five female contenders to grace the Canadian $10 bill. Desmond was accompanied on this list by poet E. Pauline Johnson, Elsie MacGill, who received an electrical engineering degree from the University of Toronto in 1927, suffragette Idola Saint-Jean, and Olympic medalist Fanny Rosenfeld. While all of these women are incredibly deserving of recognition for their respective achievements and accomplishments, Desmond was chosen not just for the strides that she made for women, but for the strides she made for all people of color.
When Desmond was told to give up her seat in the white-only section of a movie theater in New Glasgow in 1946, she refused to move and was escorted out of the theater by the police. This movie theater, called Roseland, required that black people sit up in the balcony section while the main seating area was reserved for white people. Desmond attempted to exchange her balcony ticket and offered to pay the difference for the main seating area, but she was continually denied. After being taken out of the theater, Desmond was arrested and placed in jail overnight. While Desmond’s conviction stood at trial, her resistance to the status quo and her advocacy for racial equality inspired and mobilized the black population of Nova Scotia to take action.
Desmond was also a successful entrepreneur, opening her own beauty parlor, Vi’s Studio of Beauty and Culture, that specifically catered to black women. She later expanded her brand to include her own beauty school called the Desmond School of Beauty Culture and her own beauty products line.
This isn’t the first time Desmond has been recognized by her country for her notable activism. She was portrayed on a commemorative stamp during Nova Scotia’s Black History Month back in 2012. Desmond is also the first woman of color to be featured on Heritage Minute, a video series that breaks down some of the most noteworthy moments in Canadian history. The National Film Board of Canada produced a documentary about Desmond’s legacy entitled Journey to Justice and her own sister Wanda wrote a book about her, Sister to Courage.
As the new face that Canadians will see on their $10 bills, Desmond represents the great strides that Canada and many other countries have made towards gender and racial equality.