December 8, 2016 10:33 am
Updated: December 8, 2016 11:51 am

Who is Viola Desmond? The first Canadian woman to grace front of banknote

WATCH: Who is Viola Desmond? A look back at her life.


Viola Desmond will be the first Canadian woman to grace the front of a banknote.

So who was Viola Desmond?

Nine years before Rosa Parks refused to give her seat on a bus to a white passenger in Alabama, Desmond exhibited a similar act of defiance for the sake of human rights.

READ MORE: Civil rights pioneer’s legacy grows with launch of the ferry ‘Viola Desmond’

On Nov. 8, 1946, Desmond went to a movie at New Glasgow’s Roseland Theatre and after purchasing her ticket, she sat in the lower bowl. When the manager informed her that seating area was for white patrons only, she refused to leave.

WATCH: Government of Canada video shows the history of activist Viola Desmond

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A police officer forcibly removed her, she spent the night in jail and faced a criminal charge for not paying a tax of three cents for a downstairs ticket – one penny more than she had paid for her upstairs ticket.

Desmond was convicted, paid a $20 fine and $6 in other costs.

Viola later sought support from the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NSAACP) and acquired a lawyer. They made two unsuccessful applications for appeal to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court.

READ MORE: Sister of civil rights icon Viola Desmond cherishes her legacy

On April 15, 2010, the Nova Scotia lieutenant-governor granted her a posthumous pardon and official apology. The pardon recognized the conviction was in error, and that charges should not have been laid.

Desmond passed away in 1965.

Desmond’s sister, Wanda Robson, was in attendance and on stage Thursday to help make the announcement.

WATCH: Viola Desmond’s sister honoured by decision to feature her on $10 bill 

The decision to select Desmond to appear on a future banknote was made after much deliberation.

“We started by asking Canadians,” said Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz. “And let me tell you — they told us.”

READ MORE: Viola Desmond, Nova Scotia civil rights pioneer, honoured in Heritage Minute

The process engaged Canadians in a very personal way, Poloz said. They nominated women who had impacted their industry, such as sciences or arts, or their community or area of Canada, he said.

There were more than 26,000 submissions from Canadians, containing 461 eligible names. That list was then trimmed down to 12.

READ MORE: 5 women shortlisted to be featured on new series of Canadian bank notes

Finally, five women were shortlisted for the honour: Desmond, Emily Pauline Johnson/Tekahionwake, Elizabeth MacGill, Fanny Rosenfeld, Idola Saint-Jean.

Desmond will grace the front of the $10 bill when the next series goes into circulation in 2018.

WATCH: Trudeau announces new bill will feature renown Canadian woman 

You can watch the Heritage Minute telling Desmond’s story at the Historica Canada website.

WATCH: Viola Desmond will grace the new Canadian $10 bill

With files from the Canadian Press

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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