Viola Desmond, 1914-1965

Diminutive, Black and a hairdresser living in Halifax in the 1940s, Viola Desmond is a giant in the history of Canada. Viola was a woman whose actions spoke much more loudly than her words. Refusing to sit in the theatre section assigned to Blacks, she was dragged out of the theatre and charged. The violation, tax evasion for failing to pay the full tax for a main-floor movie ticket, one cent. Though she was entitled to counsel, she was never provided one. Race was never mentioned during the trial but it was clear she had violated the unwritten rule that Blacks were to sit in the balcony. She was fined $26.

The segregation cause was taken up by Carrie Best, founder of the provincial newspaper, The Clarion. Segregation was legally ended in Nova Scotia in 1954.

In 2020, Viola was granted a full pardon by the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia and her sister, Wanda Robson, was refunded the fine.

Canada Post issued a postage stamp with Viola’s image in 2012 and the Canadian mint further honoured her as the first non-royal woman to appear on our $10 banknote, the first Black person to be printed on Canadian currency.

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