Black rights activist Viola Desmond to be on $10 bill

Finance minister announces choice of the 'Rosa Parks of Canada'

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Viola Desmond is to appear on the $10 bill. (Communications Nova Scotia/Bank of Canada)

Civil rights pioneer Viola Desmond will be the first woman, other than the Queen, to be featured on Canadian currency. Desmond will appear on the $10 bill.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz made the announcement today at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que.

Morneau said Desmond “reminds all of us today, and future generations, that moments of courage and dignity can truly change our lives forever.”

Desmond is often referred as the “Rosa Parks of Canada,” for her defiance of segregation. On Nov. 8, 1946 she sat in a “whites-only” section of a New Glasgow movie theatre.

Her refusal to move got her arrested and she was convicted of defrauding the province of a one-penny tax on ground-floor seats. Desmond was released after a $20 fine and $6 in court costs.

Demond didn’t stop there. She fought to have her charges reversed, and took her case to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court. Ultimately, her appeal was dismissed in 1947.

In 2010, she received a posthumous pardon from the Nova Scotia government.

According to a Bank of Canada news release, her court case was the first known legal fight against racial segregation by a black woman in Canada.

Desmond’s younger sister, Wanda Robson, was at the announcement.

“It’s a big day for a woman to be on a banknote — it’s a really big day to have my big sister on a banknote,” Wanda said. “If you wanted another person, other than the Queen, to be on the bill, you’ve chosen the right person.

When the new banknotes enter circulation in 2018, Desmond will be the first woman of colour and first Canadian woman to have her face on Canadian currency.

Desmond will replace Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, on the purple banknote. Macdonald’s image is to be moved to  a higher-denomination bill.