At long last, she’s here. In December of 2016, it was announced that civil-rights activist Viola Desmond would be the first woman (other than the Queen) to be featured on a Canadian banknote. Today, the $10 bill went into circulation, with the Desmond’s sister, Wanda Robson, making the first purchase at the Museum of Human rights in Winnipeg.
An image of the beautician and businesswoman–she trained at one of Madame CJ Walker’s schools in New York and upon return, opened her own salon– will replace that of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, on the purple banknote. Here’s how she got there: in 1946, Desmond was jailed for sitting in the “whites only” section of a Nova Scotia film house. The story goes that Desmond decided to catch a movie while her car was getting fixed, but was thrown out of the “whites only” section and sent to jail. People of colour were only permitted to sit in the balcony of the theatre. To add insult to injury, the next morning Desmond was convicted of defrauding the province of a one penny tax, the difference in tax between a downstairs and upstairs ticket. She was released after paying a $20 fine and $6 in court costs and bravely decided to appeal her conviction. She lost. Desmond died in 1965 at age 50, and was eventually pardoned after her death.
Watch this Heritage Minute recounting Viola Desmond’s story, and start planning a couple empowering ways to spend her $10 bill.