She did it her way: Nova Scotia town honours civil rights pioneer
Nick Kirmse, CTVNews.ca
Published Saturday, July 7, 2018 3:23PM EDT
This year she’s graced the Google Doodle and the $10 banknote, but in the Nova Scotia town where her legacy began, Viola Desmond’s name now marks the street next to the site of her famous protest against racial segregation.
Renamed “Viola’s Way,” the street sign was unveiled in a ceremony that took place in New Glasgow, N.S. on July 6 – the 104th anniversary of Desmond’s birthday.
Desmond was arrested on Nov. 8, 1946 for refusing to move from the whites-only section of the Roseland Theatre.
She spent the night in jail, convicted for a minor tax violation for the one-cent price difference in tax between the seat she paid for, and the more expensive seat she used.
Often called Canada’s Rosa Parks, Desmond’s arrest was one of the sparks of the modern civil rights movement in Canada.
Now, almost 72 years later, the street beside the theatre she was removed from has been renamed to honour her memory.
The name was the idea of Desmond’s sister, Wanda Robson.
“Back of my head, I think of Frank Sinatra, I did it my way,” Robson told CTV Atlantic. “I did it my way. Viola did it her way. So that’s why I thought Viola’s Way would be just perfect.”
Robson worked with Angela Bowden of the town’s race relations committee, who chose the street next to the theatre as the location to honour Desmond.
“I’m hoping it will serve as a visual reminder when you walk past Viola’s Way, that with courage and strength and determination and fight that you can make change,” Bowden said.
The street in her name is the latest of several moves to honour Desmond’s contributions to challenge racial segregation laws in Canada.
The government of Nova Scotia pardoned her posthumously in 2010 – the first ever to be granted in Canada – and announced in 2016 that she would become the first Canadian woman to grace a banknote.
Although Robson wasn’t able to attend the ceremony, she says that the honour would have made Viola “very proud.”
“This is sort of an atonement for what happened to her,” Robson said. “All these years later, the town of New Glasgow are now saying ‘this is in remembrance of you and what you’ve done.’ It’s remarkable”
With a report from CTV Atlantic’s Dan MacIntosh.