Viola Desmond will be the woman on Canada’s new $10 bill

By: John Shmuel on December 8, 2016

Starting in 2018, Canadians will see the face of Viola Desmond on $10 notes all across the country.

Desmond, who defied a whites-only policy at a Nova Scotia theatre in 1946, will become the first woman featured on a Canadian bank note since the Queen. She was selected out of five finalists, which included Alberta suffragette Nellie McClung and Elsie MacGill, a Canadian who became the first woman in the world to earn an electrical engineering degree.

Desmond topped a list that included 461 nominations, compiled from 26,300 submissions that answered a call by the Bank of Canada to help it choose an iconic woman to print on the next $10 bank note.

“It’s a big day to have a woman on a bank note, but it’s an especially big day to have your big sister on a bank note,” said Wanda Robson,  one of Desmond’s sisters. Desmond passed away in 1965.

Desmond was a black businesswoman who owned a beauty salon in New Glasgow. She was arrested after she sat down in a whites-only section of a nearby theatre and refused to leave when she was told to. She was kept in a jail cell overnight and fined $20 (equivalent to about $270 today).

Her court case was the first challenge to racial segregation in Canada at the time.

“Today is about recognizing the incalculable contribution that all women have had and continue to have in shaping Canada’s story,” said Finance Minister Bill Morneau. “Viola Desmond’s own story reminds all of us that big change can start with moments of dignity and bravery.”

The Bank of Canada will again leverage public opinion for its new $5 note, saying it hopes to build on the “successes of the most recent” practice. The current note features Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Canada’s first francophone prime minister.