Just a quick follow-up to add some nice news to a previous post: Back in February, I wrote this post about Viola Desmond, a beautician and black businesswoman from the Canadian province of Nova Scotia who one day in November 1946 took a stand: While waiting out repairs on her car in the Nova Scotia town of New Glasgow, Viola took in a movie at the local theater. But while wanting to sit in the lower level of the theater, she was directed to move to the balcony, the only part of the theater where blacks were permitted to sit. Viola refused, and she had to serve a night in jail. She would challenge the court conviction and the fine she had to pay, losing that appeal on the strange-sounding grounds of tax evasion. Viola’s conviction that wasn’t overturned until 2010, when, 45 years after her death, she received a free pardon and formal apology.
It’s the stand that Viola Desmond took against racial segregation back then (9 years before Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus in Alabama) that gained her admiration and recognition throughout Canada. Her wanting to “make it right” was the first recorded challenge against racial segregation by a black woman in Canada. Viola’s stand has been commemorated in books, song, a postage stamp, and a Canadian Heritage Minute. Now, Viola is about to be memorialized in an amazing way…
Back in March of this year, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the next set of banknotes issued by the Bank of Canada in 2018 would include an “iconic” (their term) Canadian woman. Note how I say Canadian woman, as Queen Elizabeth already appears on Canadian money since she’s technically Canada’s head of state. But the addition of a Canadian woman to a Canadian banknote would be a first.
For a month after that (until April 15), the Bank of Canada would accept nominations for Canadian women to be added to the banknote. The requisites included that they had to be Canadian by birth or naturalization; that they had to have been a real person, not a work of fiction (no Anne from Green Gables, sorry); that they had to have been deceased for at least 25 years; and that they had to have demonstrated outstanding leadership, achievement or distinction in any field.
From the thousands of names submitted by Canadians to the Bank of Canada, a list of 461 “iconic” women were selected. From that list, 12 nominees were selected. And from those dozen names, an independent advisory council selected a final shortlist of 5 names. Viola Desmond’s name was included on that final list, along with 4 others who are admirable in their own right (an Olympian, a suffragette, a poet, and an aeronautical engineer were also included).
This morning (December 8), Canada’s Finance Minister, Bill Morneau, and the governor of the Bank of Canada, Stephen Poloz, announced the name of the first iconic Canadian woman to appear on a Canadian banknote. After months of effort, and an “enormous challenge” of a selection process, one woman was selected. And that name was…
Yep, Ms. Desmond was selected as the first Canadian woman to appear on a Canadian banknote. When the next issue of banknotes occurs in 2018, Viola will appear on the $10 bill. That she will appear on a more commonly used banknote is a nice thing. Sure, it could have been okay to put her on a higher denomination, but putting her on the $10 bill is great in that it will constantly remind future generations of Canadians about her inspiring story. Let’s let the finance minister himself express it:
You can see highlights of the announcement of Viola Desmond’s addition to the $10 Canadian bank note in a CBC video at this link. You can also view the full ceremony here (it’s half an hour long, by the way). And you can watch extended comments about the honor from Viola’s sister, Wanda Robson in the video I’ve embedded below. Wherever Viola is now, congratulations on your honor, and thank you for being an inspiring figure during your life.