In 1946, 9 years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in a whites-only section of an Alabama bus, Viola Desmond refused to leave her main-floor seat in a Canadian movie theater.
Viola Desmond lived in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She was the owner and manager of a beauty products company. One day, her car broke down in New Glasgow, a town not far from Halifax. While her car was being repaired, she decided to see a movie.
Viola did not know that the theater was segregated. She chose a seat on the main floor. When she refused to move to the balcony, where Blacks were expected to sit, she was dragged out of the theater, arrested, charged and taken to jail.
Viola Desmond refused to accept the charges against her. Her case went all the way to Nova Scotia’s Supreme Court. Although the court ruled against her, her brave stand inspired Nova Scotia’s black community and helped advance Canada’s civil rights movement.
Viola Desmond died at the age of 50 in 1965, long before the government of Nova Scotia officially pardoned her in 2010.
In 2018, Viola Desmond was honored by becoming the first woman to appear on a $10 Canadian bank note. At the ceremony unveiling the bill, Wanda Robson, Viola’s younger sister, said "the move to include a black woman on the bill is a giant step forward in continuing Viola’s work toward equality."