Canada names Viola Desmond as first Canadian woman on banknote

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Canada's Finance Minister Bill Morneau stands with Wanda Robson after her sister Viola Desmond was chosen to be featured on a new $10 bank note during a ceremony at the Museum of History with Governor of Bank of Canada Stephen Poloz and Minister of Status of Women Patty Hajdu, in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada on Thursday. Photo by REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Canada’s Finance Minister Bill Morneau stands with Wanda Robson after her sister Viola Desmond was chosen to be featured on a new $10 bank note during a ceremony at the Museum of History with Governor of Bank of Canada Stephen Poloz and Minister of Status of Women Patty Hajdu, in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada on Thursday. Photo by REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Canada’s central bank announced Thursday that Viola Desmond will become the first woman who is not royalty on Canadian currency.

“It is my great privilege to announce that Viola Desmond will be featured on Canada’s new 10 dollar bill,” Bill Morneau, Canada’s finance minister, said. “Her story will remind all of us,and future generations, that big change can state with small moments of dignity and bravery.”


Often called “Canada’s Rosa Parks,” Desmond was best known for her fight against a segregated movie theater in 1946.

The family of Desmond, who died in 1965, accepted the honor of her behalf.

“What a day! I’m so proud that me and my family are experiencing this,” Desmond’s sister Wanda Robson said at the ceremony. “It’s a big day to have a woman on a banknote. It’s a really big day to have my big sister on a banknote.”

Robson spoke lovingly of her sister “Vi,” saying she was passionate about people, passionate about education and “she was a lady.”

“I’m so proud almost to tears,” Robson added.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also celebrated the selection.

“Businesswoman, community leader, and courageous fighter against racism. A fantastic choice.” Trudeau tweeted.

Earlier this year, Canadians submitted names of more than 20,000 women to be considered for placement on the Canadian currency, NPR reported.

It took six months to whittle the names down to five candidates. They were all now-deceased women who contributed to Canadian society.

In addition to Viola Desmond, the other finalists were the aboriginal heritage poet Pauline Johnson; Elsie Gregory MacGill, who was the first woman to obtain a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in Canada; Bobbie Rosenfield, a record-holding standing broad jump, discus and running athlete; and Idola Saint-Jean, a suffragette in Quebec, according to the Bank of Canada.

In the end, Desmond’s story stood out.

Desmond unknowingly sat the white-only section in a movie theater in 1946 and was arrested and held in jail overnight for refusing to move to another seat. She paid the $20 fine and a penny for the theater tax, according to the bank, but she also took her case to court, raising Canadian awareness of segregation.

Desmond was also an entrepreneur. She received a diploma in hairdressing after moving to Montreal and even New York to take courses black women were not allowed to take in other cities. She went on to establish Vi’s Studio of Beauty Culture in Halifax, the Desmond School of Beauty Culture and her own beauty product line.

The United States will soon feature Harriet Tubman on its $20 bill, and Jane Austen is expected to appear next year on Britain’s $10 note, according to the BBC.

The post Canada names Viola Desmond as first Canadian woman on banknote appeared first on PBS NewsHour.