'Our family will go down in history': Desmond's sister moved by new $10 bill
African-Canadian civil rights activist Viola Desmond has been honoured with a new $10 bill featuring her image, cementing her legacy as a trailblazer and activist who refused to accept prevailing attitudes about race and gender.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz unveiled the redesigned currency at a ceremony in Halifax on Thursday.
Desmond’s sister Wanda Robson removed a black cloth from an enlarged image of the new bill’s design at the Halifax Central Library.
“The Minister of Finance and I agreed it was long past time for a bank note to feature an iconic Canadian woman. That has been a goal of mine since I became governor,” Poloz said. “A great national conversation took place . . . about the contributions so many iconic women have made to our history.”
More than 26,000 nominations were submitted from across Canada to decide who would be the face of the new bill.
Morneau said the new note will not be in circulation until the end of the year. He joked that Robson will be allowed to keep the bill she was presented with today. He went on to thank Robson for bringing her sister’s story to the attention of all Canadians by encouraging people to support her nomination.
“Viola’s is just one of millions of stories of women who have helped shape, build and influence our country. But it is an important story, because it shows that standing up for what we believe, whether it’s on the step of Parliament Hill or in a movie theatre in New Glasgow, N.S., can make our country and our world a better place for future generations.”
Desmond is best known for protesting a segregated Nova Scotia movie theatre in 1946 by refusing to give up her seat in a whites-only section. Her stand predates Rosa Parks’ similar action on an Alabama bus by nearly a decade.
“The deck was doubly stacked against Viola, because of both gender and the colour of her skin,” Morneau said. “Her legal challenge galvanized the black community in Halifax’s north end and paved the way for a broader understanding of the importance of human rights across our country.”
Desmond is the first black person - and the first non-royal woman - on a regularly circulating Canadian bank note. Last year, Agnes Macphail’s image was featured on a commemorative $10 bank note celebrating the 150th anniversary of Confederation.
The audience at Halifax Central Library watched a video of the moment Robson was told her sister was chosen to be the face of the new $10 note.
“It’s beautiful. Look at her,” she said as she examined the bill in the video. “It’s lifelike. It’s as if she is in this room with this new $10 bill. Canadians will be reminded of how Viola stood up for her rights. One woman’s actions can really make a difference.”
Robson went on to thank the artists for making the new $10 bill “different” than other pieces of currency.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you for that,” she said on Thursday. “This is amazing, unique . . . our family will go down in history. Can you imagine that?”