Viola Desmond​ is the first woman of colour to be on Canada’s currency

Viola Desmond defied racial segregation in a movie theatre. Now she is the first Canadian woman on a Canadian banknote.

There’s a new face on the $10 bill. Viola Desmond, a woman who made history in 1946 when she refused to sit in the black section of a segregated movie theatre in Nova Scotia, became a civil rights icon. Now, her legacy is being honoured on Canadian currency. She is the first woman in Canada to be put on a Canadian bill.

Viola Desmond, born July 6, 1914, created a beauty school and mentored young black women. She gained a great amount of recognition and success due to her beauty school as there were many popular hairstyles back then. 1946, Viola Desmond was arrested after she refused to give up her seat in a whites-only section of a movie theatre. The government refused to drop all charges on her even after the Nova Scotian Black community tried assisting her. Viola Desmond died in 1965 and is now an icon of civil rights in Canada.

One side of the bill displays Viola Desmond, alongside the historic North End of Halifax where Desmond lived and worked. In the bottom left, It displays the Library of Parliament’s dome ceiling. The reverse side depicts the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and an eagle feather, which for many First Nations represents truth, power, and freedom.

In Canada usually, the Queen and past prime ministers are selected to be put on the bills. As well as historic buildings, paintings, and cultural references. When it comes to who is on our money, it helps to be a titan of history, or have some sort of iconic image. Not often does the government release new money designs, so when they do it’s a big deal.

Viola Desmond has helped black rights by influencing people to start protests and stand up for their culture in Canada over the past 100 years. There has long been talk about her being put onto currency. This is a significant step in the recognition of Canadian diversity since she is both the first Canadian woman as well as the first woman of colour to be featured on a bill.

Viola Desmond’s 91-year-old sister, Wanda Robson, was the first to receive the $10 bill on November 19th during a moving ceremony at the Museum of Human Rights. Robson stated that is was “’Hard to describe the feeling you get when your own sister… is going to be honoured with a bill.”

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