Who is the Black Woman Being Featured on the $10 Bill?

Viola Desmond portrait
Cydney Smith
August 6, 2020

In 1946, segregation was the law of the land in Canada. In this racially tense climate, Viola Desmond entered a Nova Scotia movie theater. Quickly, she was refused a ticket on the theater’s main floor and forced to sit in the Blacks-only balcony.

But her vision was poor. There was no way she could clearly see the screen from her seat.

So with full knowledge of the violent consequences she could suffer, Viola Desmond chose to act bravely. She sat in the whites-only section.

Dragged by police from the theater, they tossed Desmond in jail and charged her for tax evasion! How? Because the whites-only section cost one cent more! Instead of quietly paying, Desmond fought her charge in court, bringing national awareness to Canada’s racial struggle.

Ten years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus, Viola Desmond was making history. And for her bravery - and the oppression enacted against Black Canadians for so long - this civil rights pioneer will be on Canada’s $10 note!

The $10 note, which went into circulation November 19, 2018, centers Viola Desmond, but also features the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and a map of a historically Black neighborhood.  

Viola Desmond passed in 1965. And though she never saw the social impact of her bravery, it resonates in the actions we take in the continuous fight for Black freedom worldwide.

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