Viola Desmond – A true heroine of Canada’s civil rights movement

Viola Desmond – A true heroine of Canada’s civil rights movement

Viola Irene Desmond – July 6, 1914 – February 7, 1965

It’s important to remember the ruinous nature of racial discrimination.

Today’s Google video is about Canadian businesswoman and entrepreneur, Viola Desmond who refused to leave a ‘white’s only’ section of a movie theatre. She was arrested and then convicted of a minor tax violation for a 1 cent tax difference between the seat she had paid for and the seat she used, which was more expensive.

Wiki Canada states that, “With the help of her church and the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NSAACP), Desmond hired a lawyer, Frederick William Bissett, who represented her in the criminal trials and attempted, unsuccessfully, to file a lawsuit against the Roseland Theatre.”


Desmond noticed few hair and skin products available on the market for black women and so decided to do something about it. Because of her mixed race, she could not train at a Halifax beauty school, so she went to Montreal, New York City, and Atlantic City to train. Desmond returned to Halifax and opened her own hair salon. She then went on to open the Desmond School of Beauty so black women wouldn’t have to travel to get proper beauty school training.

Later, this brave entrepreneur started her own beauty line as well called, Vi’s Beauty Products.

She is the only woman to appear on the Canadian $10 bill.

Viola Desmond is remembered appropriately on this day – as a woman who stood against forces much greater than herself but persisted; and won.

The National Post reported that Viola Desmond’s faith was mighty in her life, “She attended the Cornwallis Street Baptist Church, and its famous minister, Dr. William Pearly Oliver, persuaded her to fight the matter of being arrested at the movie house, and offered her the support and encouragement of the congregation to do so.”

Dr. Oliver later reflected on Desmond’s legacy:

… This meant something to our people. Neither before or since has there been such an aggressive effort to obtain rights. The people arose as one and with one voice. This positive stand enhanced the prestige of the Negro community throughout the Province. It is my conviction that much of the positive action that has since taken place stemmed from this.

Dr. William Pearly Oliver, reflecting on the case 15 years later.

We salute Viola Irene Desmond – a woman of great courage who died too young. She died of a gastrointestinal hemorrhage on February 7, 1965 at age 50. She was known as a, “Royal soul who always advocated solutions that upheld the dignity and value of all people.”

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