For those who don't know her story, Desmond has been claimed as Canada's Rosa Parks, although her moment in history happened nine years earlier. On November 8th, 1946, while on the road selling her own line of beauty products, she stopped to see a movie at the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow while her car was being fixed. The ticket seller couldn't sell her a ticket for the downstairs where whites sat, but Desmond, who could afford to buy the more expensive ticket, was indignant and sat downstairs. An usher approached her and told her she would have to get up. She declined and offered to pay the higher price to stay, but that was refused. He called the manager and the two of them dragged her out of the theatre. She was arrested for not paying the theatre tax and jailed overnight. She was convicted of defrauding the province of a one penny tax, which was the difference between the upstairs and downstairs seats.
This was not the first time Desmond experienced discrimination firsthand. When she had wanted to open her salon, she had been denied formal training in Halifax because she was black. She had to go to Montreal and the US for her training and learned from the legendary Madame CJ Walker. In addition to her salon, she also set up a school to train other black women.
Desmond paid her her fine and court costs and then unssucessfully appealed her conviction. Her case is believed to be the first legal challenge brought by a Black woman in Canada. As reported by the CBC, Morneau stated that "Viola Desmond was a woman who broke down barriers, who provided inspiration to Canadians around social justice issues and showed that each and every one of us, individually, can make a difference."
Desmond died at the young age of 50 in 1965. Thanks to the efforts of her youngest sister, Wanda Robson, 89, Desmond was finally granted a posthumous pardon in 2010 by former Nova Scotia lieutenant-governor Mayann Francis, the first black person to serve as the Queen's representative in the province. The provincial government also issued a formal apology.
In Halifax there is a harbour ferry named after her and in 2012 the postal service issued a commemorative stamp.
Learn more about Viola Desmond here: http://www.blackhistorycanada.ca/profiles.php?themeid=20&id=13
Happy New Year!