Canadian Civil Rights Pioneer on Vertical $10 Bill

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March 8, 2018

The first Canadian bank note showing a vertical image highlights a female civil rights protester.

Viola Desmond on a bill

Viola Desmond struggling long and hard to bring about more civil rights for black people in Canada. Her face now graces the C$10 bill. Making the presentation were Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz and Finance Minister Bill Morneau, in a public ceremony in Nova Scotia, the province in which Desmond was jailed in 1946 for protesting racial segregation by refusing to give up her seat in a whites-only section of a Halifax movie theater.

Desmond was prosecuted for tax evasion and ordered to pay the one-cent difference between a "black" seat and a "white" seat; she was fined C$20 and ordered to pay court costs of C$6. She fought the charge, along with the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, and ultimately got her case thrown out of court. Her actions helps start the country's civil rights movement.

Desmond died in 1965. In 2010, the Government issued her a posthumous pardon; she was the first person to receive one. In 2012, Canada Post issued a stamp featuring her.

Desmond's sister, Wanda Robson, also attended and expressed her thrill at the honor. Desmond is the first black person and first non-royual woman on a Canadian bank note in regular circulation.

The currency announcement occurred on International Women's Day. The government had called for public submissions for new designs for the currency. Desmond's name was one of more than 26,000 nominations.

The vertical-image bill will be in circulation by the end of the year. The current horizontal-image bill is relatively new. Introduced in 2017 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Canadian Confederation, that bill features four people: Sir John A. Macdonald, the country's first prime minister; Agnes MacPhail, the first female member of Parliament; James Gladstone, the first senator from a treaty First Nation; and Sir George-Étienne Cartier, a Father of Confederation.

Bermuda and Switzerland are the only other countries with currency showing vertical images.

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