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

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

A nurse performs a test on a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic in Montreal, on Wednesday, October 21, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson)
30 new COVID-19 cases, five more deaths in Interior Health

This brings the total number of cases to 7,271 since testing began

(From left to right) Twin Meadows Animal Rescue co-directors Puneet Grewal and Nycki Wannamaker with Stick & Stone manager Meaghan Collins, and Stick & Stone owner SJ Nelson. Pictured here with Blue, Hombre, Daphne,Skye and Freedom. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)
‘Rescue starts from the moment they come through the doors’: TMARS co-founder

Puneet Grewal of Elkford co-founded TMARS in 2020, and with the help of a small army of volunteers and fosters has helped dozens of animals find homes

(Pixabay)
B.C. ranks as fourth most attractive Canadian jurisdiction for resources companies

B.C. was ahead of neighbouring Alberta, which was ranked as the seventh-best Canadian jurisdiction

Castlegar’s Gabrielle Herle (right) will be one of the speakers at the conference. She is seen here with Wendy Gaskill from Chinook Scaffolding accepting their Contractor of the Year Award in 2019 from the Builders Code Champion Awards. Photo: Submitted
Girls in STEAM and Leadership Conference offered free for all girls in the Kootenay Boundary

Virtual conference for girls in grades 8 to 12 will be taking place on March 8

Flowers given to seniors that were 'adopted' through the Buds and Blooms program. (Image contributed by Lilac Terrace, Sparwood)
Brighten a senior’s day with flowers

Receiving flowers can improve well-being by lifting spirits, so the folks at… Continue reading

Dr. Bonnie Henry talk about the next steps in B.C.'s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
456 new COVID-19 cases in B.C., 2 deaths

Since January 2020, 78,278 have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in B.C.

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)
Vaccinating essential workers before seniors in B.C. could save lives: experts

A new study says the switch could also save up to $230 million in provincial health-care costs

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The late Michael Gregory, 57, is accused of sexually exploiting six junior high students between 1999 and 2005. (Pixabay)
Former Alberta teacher accused of sexually assaulting students found dead in B.C.

Mounties say Michael Gregory’s death has been deemed ‘non-suspicious’

According to a new poll, a majority of Canadians want to see illicit drugs decriminalized. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Majority of Canadians think it’s high time to decriminalize illicit drugs: poll

More than two-times the B.C. residents know someone who died from an overdose compared to rest of Canada

Interior Health officially declared a COVID-19 outbreak at Creekside Landing in Vernon on Jan. 3, which was followed by the first death from the virus 10 days later. (Kaigo photo)
COVID outbreak over at Vernon care home

Creekside Landing cleared of coronavirus, despite additional death in last day

Photograph By @KAYLAXANDERSON
VIDEO: Lynx grabs lunch in Kamloops

A lynx surprises a group of ducks and picks one off for lunch

(Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. residents can reserve provincial camp sites starting March 8

B.C. residents get priority access to camping reservations in province

Most Read