Canada announced that a black woman would grace their $10 bill and history was made.

Viola Desmond was the very first black person to grace a Canadian dollar bill.

We decided to do our research on Viola Desmond and here are 3 facts we drummed up about this historical civil rights activist.

  1. She pulled a ‘Rosa Parks’ at a cinema in New Glasgow.

She refused to leave a whites-only area of the Roseland Theatre and was convicted of a minor tax violation for the one-cent tax difference between the seat she had paid for and the seat she used which was more expensive. Desmond’s case is one of the most publicized incidents of racial discrimination in Canadian history and helped start the modern civil rights movement in Canada.

   2. She didn’t take no for an answer in her career

Being of African descent, Viola Desmond was not allowed to train to become a beautician in Halifax, so she left and received beautician training in Montreal, Atlantic City and one of Madam C. J. Walker‘s beauty schools in New York. Upon finishing her training, Viola Desmond returned to Halifax to start her own hair salon. Her clients included Portia White and a young Gwen Jenkins, later the first black nurse in Nova Scotia.

     3. She used her business as a tool to empower other black women

In addition to the salon, Desmond opened The Desmond School of Beauty Culture so that black women would not have to travel as far as she did to receive proper training. Catering to women from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Quebec, the school operated using a vertical integration framework. Students were provided with the skills required to open their own businesses and provide jobs for other black women within their communities.


Although her portrayal on the $10 bill was made public in 2006; as we celebrate women’s month this March with the theme, Press for progress, let’s be careful to reflect on how we’re moving our communities forward as women in our own generation and our time. Are we truly pressing for progress even when it is uncomfortable and maybe even risky? Or are we simply going with the flow hoping that social ills will fix themselves for the better?

The women who came before us made it impossible for us to rest on our laurels. So much was achieved in their era and the baton has long been passed to us. It’s left to us to run the race of which we are highly capable.

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