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Canada’s First Banknote Featuring a Woman Will Circulate Next Week

Civil rights pioneer, businesswoman, face of the $10 bill. Viola Desmond will be the first woman to be featured on a Canadian banknote when the new 10 goes into circulation next week. It looks awesome:

A successful beautician and mentor to young black women in Nova Scotia, Desmond’s calling as a civil libertarian came to prominence when she refused to vacate a whites-only section of a New Glasgow, Nova Scotia movie theatre in 1946. Her courageous act came nine years before Rosa Parks’ iconic refusal to give up her seat on a bus to a white man.

“What it means is that there’s recognition in terms of the struggle that we, as African Canadians have gone through for all of our years of being here,” said Irvine Carvery, a prominent member of the Halifax neighbourhood in which Desmond frequented.

“That was a pinnacle event, down in New Glasgow, when she refused to give up her seat. So to put her on the bill is, for me, a recognition that those struggles were real, and they continue through to today.”

As with all significant moments in Canadian history, Desmond’s story is best told through a Heritage Minute:

Desmond was chosen by Finance Minister Bill Morneau out of more than 450 submissions. An independent advisory council then narrowed the selection down to a shortlist of five, which included Aboriginal poet E. Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake), engineer Elizabeth (Elsie) MacGill, athlete Fanny (Bobbie) Rosenfeld, and suffragette Idola Saint-Jean.

The new $10 bill is the first vertically aligned banknote and is accented by a map of Halifax’s north end, a picture of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, an passage from the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and an eagle feather as a nod to Canada’s reconciliation efforts towards Indigenous Peoples.

Christian Nathler

Christian Nathler is a contributing writer at Notable Life.