Wanda Robson, sister of Viola Desmond, holds the new $10 bank note featuring Desmond during a press conference in Halifax on Thursday, March 8, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese

‘A giant step forward’: new $10 bill featuring Viola Desmond to enter circulation

A new $10 banknote featuring Viola Desmond’s portrait will go into circulation, just over 72 years after she was ousted from the whites-only section of a movie theatre in New Glasgow, N.S.

Wanda Robson still finds it hard to believe that her big sister is the new face of the $10 bill — and the first Canadian woman to be featured on a regularly circulating banknote.

The sister of the late Nova Scotia civil rights pioneer and businesswoman Viola Desmond, Robson said the move to include a black woman on the bill is a “giant step forward” in continuing Desmond’s work toward equality.

In an interview, she said she has difficulty putting her excitement into words.

“I’m so grateful and I’m happy,” said Robson, who turns 92 next month. ”Those are sort of mundane words, but I’m looking for a word that would describe it, and all I can say is what the kids say today: it’s awesome!”

Robson will make the first purchase with the new bill during a ceremony Monday at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, where Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz and museum president John Young will officially launch the banknote.

For her first purchase, Robson plans to buy a book co-written by her and Cape Breton University professor Graham Reynolds about Desmond’s life and legacy, and give it to her 12-year-old granddaughter so she can learn more about her great-aunt’s story.

Robson said her granddaughter has shown a longtime interest in Desmond, despite being born decades after her death in 1965.

“She said, ‘You know nan, when I get my first ten dollar bill with aunt Viola on it, I’m going to frame it, and put it on a wall, and never, ever spend it,’” Robson said.

Read more: Canada unveils new $10 bill featuring black businesswoman

Read more: Viola Desmond honoured with Canadian Walk of Fame star

On Nov. 8, 1946, Desmond was arrested after refusing to leave a whites-only section of the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, N.S., in an incident that has since become one of the most high-profile cases of racial discrimination in Canadian history.

It would take 63 years for Nova Scotia to issue Desmond a posthumous apology and pardon.

Robson has spent years educating children and adults alike about how her sister’s case helped shine a light on Canada’s burgeoning civil rights movement.

She said the new bill’s national circulation will lead to even more awareness about Desmond’s story, and the wider issue of racial discrimination in Canada.

“It’s a giant step forward into knowledge about who we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re going,” she said. “There’s still a lot of work to be done, and I really hope that this bill will get not only children, but adults, to say, ‘who is that?’ And then people will be able to pass on what Viola did and the amazing differences she made.”

Desmond was selected to be on the bill after an open call for nominations and a public opinion survey on the Bank of Canada website.

Behind her portrait, the banknote also shows a map of Halifax’s historic north end, home to one of Canada’s oldest black communities and the area where Desmond grew up.

The map includes the stretch of Gottingen Street, where Desmond opened a salon as part of a business that would eventually expand into her own line of cosmetics and a beauty school, which allowed her to mentor black women from across the country.

In recognition of the bill launch, Halifax’s North End Business Association is hosting “Celebrate Viola,” a multi-day event from Wednesday to Sunday that will feature a roundtable discussion about the civil rights movement, an original musical about Desmond’s life, and a tribute concert.

The bill is the first vertically oriented banknote in Canada, and also includes a picture of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, an excerpt from the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and an eagle feather, which the Bank of Canada said represents the “ongoing journey toward recognizing rights and freedoms for Indigenous Peoples in Canada.”

Desmond has received numerous posthumous accolades, including having a Halifax Transit ferry named after her and receiving a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame.

Alex Cooke, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Cermaq Canada continues to adapt operations amid Covid-19 pandemic while supporting employees and local communities

As governments, communities and Canadians continue to modify behaviors and activities based… Continue reading

No more ferries will sail from Departure Bay, Mill Bay, Brentwood Bay during COVID-19 pandemic

B.C. Ferries announces major changes to sailing schedules for 60 days starting Saturday, April 4

COVID-19: North Islanders bang pots and pans to honour essential workers

‘Hopefully we can keep it going for them because these people are showing up at work every day for us’

Bradshaw’s Photo Highlight: Juvenile eagle

‘I was able to drive up close to it and get a few pictures without getting out of the truck’

VIDEO: How doctors in Canada will decide who lives and dies if pandemic worsens

Officials in several provinces have been developing guides so that doctors don’t feel alone

Nanaimo’s Harmac mill works to fill doubled pulp order for medical masks and gowns

Mill’s president says extra cleaning in place and workers are social distancing

Two people fined after B.C. police spot online ads re-selling 5,000 surgical, N95 masks

Police confiscated the masks, being sold at inflated prices, and now working with Fraser Health

Sex workers face new risks during COVID-19 pandemic

‘Desperation has kicked in’ for vulnerable, undocumented workers unable to access help

Unclear if Cowichan couple refusing to self-isolate will face penalty

No fines or charges have been laid to date, including Cowichan couple who won’t self isolate

COVID-19: Postponed surgeries will be done, B.C. health minister says

Contract with private surgical clinic to help clear backlog

Black Press Media ad sparks discussion about value of community newspapers

White Rock resident hopes front-page note shines light on revenue loss during COVID-19 crisis

Emergency funding available for North Island College students

Funding for students experiencing financial strain that may affect their ability to continue studies

Most Read