On Thursday, the Canadian government announced that civil rights activist Viola Desmond will become the first Canadian woman — and the first woman of colour — to appear on the country's banknotes. Desmond will be the new face of Canada's $10 note. Chances are, you may not know much about Desmond, but you should. At 32, the beautician and businesswoman attended a movie at the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, in 1946 while she waited for her car to be repaired. She sat in the cinema’s “whites only” section. Desmond was asked to leave — and she refused. After an exchange with the manager, Desmond was forcibly removed from the cinema and put in jail. She was charged with attempting to defraud the provincial government, since she hadn't paid the full price for the "whites only" seat, which was a one-cent difference. She was provided with no legal representation and fined $26. Desmond filed a civil suit to appeal the charges, but it never made it to court. Sadly, Desmond passed away in 1965. Her story wasn't even given proper attention until her sister, Wanda Robson, started talking about it and wrote a book called Sister to Courage. In 2010, Desmond was granted a much-delayed free pardon by Nova Scotia and given a public apology. In 2012, she was featured on a Canadian postage stamp. She's been hailed as Canada's Rosa Parks for her bravery in Nova Scotia. But Desmond, who refused to move years before Parks in 1955, has never been given the same recognition.
“Viola Desmond is a woman who broke barriers, who provided an inspiration for Canadians around social justice issues and showed that each of us individually in courageous moments can make a difference,” said Finance Minister Bill Morneau, according to The Guardian. The only other woman to appear on Canadian banknotes is Queen Elizabeth, which officially makes Desmond the first Canadian woman to do so. The announcement comes just after the U.S. announced that it would be adding Harriet Tubman to the $20. At Thursday's ceremony announcing the news, Robson spoke a few words. She told the crowd, “Viola inspires us...today as she inspired people years ago." She added, "I’m so proud, I’m almost in tears.”