New $10 bill unveiled featuring civil rights activist Viola Desmond

Wanda Robson, the sister of Viola Desmond, smiles as the new $10 featuring her sister Viola Desmond is unveiled. Photo courtesy CBC/Canadian Press.

On International Women’s Day, a prominent woman from Atlantic Canada is being honoured as a civil rights icon with the unveiling of a new $10 bill.

Viola Desmond becomes the first black person and the first non-royal woman on a regularly circulating Canadian bank note, which was introduced at a ceremony Thursday by Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz in Halifax.

With a broken down car on a business trip to Sydney, Nova Scotia on Nov. 8, 1946, Desmond went to a movie in New Glasgow, NS.

Because she could not see well from the balcony where black patrons were relegated to sit, she sat on the floor level reserved for whites.

Desmond refused to give up her seat and was dragged out of the theatre by police, arrested, thrown in jail for 12 hours and fined.

The incident happened nearly a decade before Rosa Parks famously refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Alabama.

Desmond’s case is credited with playing a role in legally ending segregation in Nova Scotia in 1954.

Desmond died in 1965 and Nova Scotia issued a posthumous apology and pardon in 2010.

Desmond’s sister, Wanda Robson, was also at Thursday’s unveiling and got the first look at the new bill in a video by the Bank of Canada.

The new bill also features a map of the Halifax North End community that supported Desmond, and the Canadian Museum For Human Rights building in Winnipeg.

There is also an eagle feather that is the First Nations symbol of truth, power and freedom.

Circulation of the note, with a vertical orientation for the first time, will begin later this year.

With files from the Canadian Press and CBC.