Creating Connections – Viola Desmond

March 1, 2024

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Creating Connections – Viola Desmond

By M.Brenner, FSWC Education Program Coordinator

This month, we commemorate both International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and International Women’s Day.  The story of Viola Desmond connects these two days, especially as this year’s theme for International Women’s Day is “Inspire Inclusion.”

A victim of anti-black racism, Viola Desmond played a key role in the Canadian civil rights movement. Born in 1914 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, she was not allowed to attend beauty school there. Determined to live her dream, she studied at one of the few schools accepting African – Canadians in Montreal and later trained in the United States. Eventually, she became a successful entrepreneur in Nova Scotia.

Although there were no official segregation laws in Canada in the mid 1940s, some businesses and communities discriminated and segregated along racial lines.

On Nov 8, 1946, Viola was arrested at the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, for refusing to move from a “whites-only” seat in the theatre. Oblivious to the theatre’s segregation rules, she wanted to buy a ticket for its floor section. Although allowed to purchase only a balcony ticket, Viola nevertheless sat in the floor section anyhow.

She was charged with tax evasion, supposedly because there was a one cent tax difference between the floor and balcony seats.

Despite an unsuccessful appeal against this conviction, Viola’s act of resistance had a positive impact on the Canadian civil rights movement.

Sadly, Viola did not live to see herself pardoned by the federal government in 2016. Her efforts to create a more inclusive Canada will long be remembered, for which she was chosen as the first Canadian woman to appear on the country’s $10 bill.