History in the making

Community Featured

The nation’s newest $10 bank note was unveiled at the Halifax Central Library last week, and it featured a New Glasgow connection.

Viola Desmond, a pioneering figure in civil rights in Canada known for refusing to give up her seat in a whites-only section of a movie theatre in New Glasgow, was honoured by the Bank of Canada in choosing her likeness to appear on the new design for the Canadian $10 bill, making her the first woman ever to appear on Canadian currency.

“The Minister of Finance and I agreed from the beginning, it was long past time for a bank note to feature an iconic Canadian woman,” says Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz, who travelled to Halifax to unveil the new design in front of press, special guests, and viewers tuning in via webcast.

Poloz said the selection process for choosing the next face of the $10 bill was unique, in that they opened up nominations to all of Canada. They received more than 26,000 nominations from coast to coast, but an advisory board helped them narrow down their options, and it became evident that Desmond was the stand-out nominee.

“Bank notes are designed not only to be secure and durable, but also to be works of art that tell the stories of Canada” says Poloz.

The bill was then unveiled to the crowd, with the help of Minister of Finance Bill Morneau and Wanda Robson, Viola Desmond’s sister. A large display showcased both sides of the bill which featured Viola, as well as other significant symbols of human rights, such as an excerpt from the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a depiction of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, and a map of Halifax’s North End, where Desmond lived and worked for social justice.

Copies of the actual bill were also in the hands of the special guests revealing the bill, although they had to be returned — all but one.

“This bank note is not yet in circulation until the end of the year, but Wanda is keeping hers,” says Morneau. “They said I was going to have to give these bank notes back. I don’t think I have the authority to take that bank note back from her.”

Robson, who is in a large part responsible for earning her sister a posthumous pardon and re-galvanizing her memory in the modern Canadian consciousness, was invited to say a few words about Desmond and “her bill.”

“I was speechless — my family would have liked that,” she says to a chuckling crowd. “This is beyond what I ever thought… Our family will go down in history.”

Robson in particular gave credit to the team of artists and researchers who worked on the bill, saying their dedication will bring her sister’s story to all of Canada.

“They were so meticulous in their researching even I … knew that they were putting everything they had into this,” says Robson, who then quickly turned to Morneau and snapped jokingly, “and don’t look at my bill again!”

Robson says she’s used to seeing Desmond honoured in New Glasgow and around Nova Scotia, but is excited to see her story will inspire women everywhere across Canada.

“With this new $10 bill, Canadians will be reminded of how Viola stood up for her rights,” says Robson in a video shown to the audience of her first time seeing the new note. “One woman’s actions can really make a difference.”