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First Black Woman on Canadian Banknotes| Viola Desmond

Updated: Jan 6

“by doubting we are led to question by questioning we arrive at the truth” Peter Abelard

The Montgomery bus boycott was a well known event that occurred as a result of Rosa Parks’ arrest for refusing to give up her seat to a white person on a segregated bus in 1955. Guess what, there’s a Canadian version which happened a decade earlier, and her name is Viola Desmond.

Viola Desmond was a black businesswoman who challenged racial segregation at a movie theatre in Nova Scotia in 1946. She refused to leave a whites-only area in the theatre and was convicted with a minor tax violation for the one-cent difference between the seat she purchased, which was for black people, and the seat she sat at, which was reserved for white people. The police were called and she was dragged away which resulted in a hip injury. Viola was held overnight in jail and was charged while her rights were denied.

Viola Desmond — an entrepreneur and social justice leader — is the new face on the Canadian banknotes, and she was chosen among 400+ iconic Canadian women to be on the $10 bill. This is a great milestone for Canada as well as for women, and it makes many proud to have someone like Viola Desmond represented on Canadian currency.

Curiously, who did Viola Desmond replace on the $10 banknote?

Meet Sir John A Macdonald (1878–1891), the man who is currently on the $10 bill.

Sir John was Canada’s first Prime Minister, and he is the man who is responsible for the Canada we live in today. Many know him for the contributions he made in this country, but forget to mention how much of a criminal he actually was. Sir A was responsible for creating Canada’s dark legacy of residential schools, and the trauma it caused still persists today.

He also preached that the Chinese were taking white people’s jobs, and the mixing between the two races would threaten the “aryan race”.

Let’s take a closer look at the faces that currently occupy the Canadian currency.

This is Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier (1896–1911).

He believed that it was moral for Canada to steal land from “savage nations” as long as they paid adequate compensation. He was also responsible for raising the Chinese head tax from $50 a person to $500.

Fun fact, Wilfrid is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s personal hero.

Here is William Lyon Mackenzie King (1935–1948). Also known as the Longest Serving Prime Minister.

He is well known for leading Canada throughout the second world war. His motto was to “help those who cannot help themselves”.

He was responsible for turning away a ship full of 900 Jewish people fleeing the Nazis. King and his administration were also responsible for putting Japanese people in internment camps in 1942.

Oh, and he was also a fan of Hitler.

Lastly, meet Sir Robert Borden (1911–1920).

Sir Robert’s party ran a famous campaign slogan in British Columbia, “A White Canada” referring to increasing resentment of cheap Asian labour and the resulting depression in wages.

He also said, “We stand for a white British Columbia, a white land and a white empire.”

Mentioned above are the not so glamorous facts of men who once led Canada. To have Viola Desmond represented on a Canadian banknote is a great first step in commemorating individuals who showed leadership and strength during difficult times historically. With hope, the rest of the banknotes will have faces of individuals who showed great regard for all people and strived to better society with the utmost respect.

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