Royal Bank of Canada
Black History Month Scholarship
7 December 2018
The New Lady with the Queen
Its 1946 in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. While on a business trip, a young women’s car breaks down, therefore she decides to go see a movie to pass the time. She buys her ticket and heads to her seat. Just as she begins to get comfortable, she receives a gentle tap on her shoulder. It’s the one of the members of the theatre staff, trailed by multiple police officers. This harmless young women, is then dragged out of the movie theatre and is forced to spend the next 12 hours in cold jail cell.
This innocent woman was none other than Viola Desmond. When Desmond’s car broke down she went to the Roseland Theatre to busy herself while her car was being repaired. Roseland, however, at the time was a segregated theatre, therefore the whites got the floor seats, where the blacks were forced to sit in the balcony. The problem with that was that Desmond was near sighted and wouldn’t be able to see the screen from the balcony. When she approached the ticket booth, she attempted to buy a floor seat (which were one cent more expensive) but was denied, so she purchased a balcony seat. Instead of taking her place in the balcony, she snuck into the floor level. Soon after she began to get comfortable, Viola received that horrid tap on her shoulder. Once escorted from the theatre, she was charged and convicted with tax evasion; all because of one cent. Throughout all of this, Desmond was never informed she was entitled to a lawyer (Yarhi & Bingham, 2018).
Desmond’s case is similar to many during this time period. Black people were all stripped of their rights and treated as though they weren’t human- all because of their skin color. The difference in this circumstance, however, is that Viola realized the injustice that had occurred that night, and she wasn’t planning to let the government get away with that. She had worked hard all her life to get what she wanted and she wasn’t going to back down now. Desmond appealed the case, but the judge again ruled in the favor of the defendants (CBC News, 2016). The community of black Nova Scotians exploded.
Even though Desmond’s incident wasn’t intended to cause such conflict, it did. The black community of Nova Scotia was appalled, and immediately began protesting for her rights. One single night soon became the catalyst the people needed to stand up for what they believed. As Viola’s sister, Wanda Robson, said in an interview with CBC in 2016, “Viola was passionate about people. She inspired them and she inspires us.”
The fact of the matter is that Viola Desmond was an inspiration to the black community before that fateful night. In the early 1900s she attended the Field Beauty Culture School in Montreal, one of the only schools in Canada that accepted black people into their programs. Later on, she went on to found her own institution: Halifax’s Desmond School of Beauty Culture. Here she sold her own line of hair and skin product across Nova Scotia, and focused on giving black women in general, opportunities they could not achieve otherwise (Annett & Stone, 2018). Even after the night at the Roseland Theatre, her main focus was her beauty school and the young women who attended it, rather than the chaos that was unfolding around her (Annett & Stone, 2018).
On April 15, 2010, 64 years later, Desmond was officially pardoned of the crime she never committed (Yarhi & Bingham, 2018). Now, 72 years later, her legacy will continue to flourish and bring awareness to Canada’s difficult past. Viola Desmond now rests on the ten-dollar banknote, accompanying the queen. This announcement was a victory for not only the black community, but for women all over Canada, as well as a proud moment for Maritimer’s like myself. Viola will always be remembered by her sister and many others as a mentor to young black women in Nova Scotia through her beauty school and through her determination to not accept racial discrimination.
Annett, Evan, and Laura Stone. “A Viola Desmond Primer: Who’s the Woman on Today’s New Canadian $10 Bill?” The Globe and Mail, Globe Staff and Wire Services, 19 Nov. 2018, www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-viola-desmond-10-bill-explainer/.
Bingham, Russell, and Eli Yarhi. “Viola Desmond: CANADIAN BUSINESSWOMAN AND CIVIL LIBERTARIAN.” Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc, 28 Nov. 2018, www.britannica.com/biography/Viola-Desmond#ref336003.
CBC News. “How Civil Rights Icon Viola Desmond Helped Change Course of Canadian History.” CBC News, Radio Canada, 8 Dec. 2016, www.cbc.ca/news/canada/viola-desmond-bio-1.3886923.