New $10 bill featuring Viola Desmond also depicts Winnipeg human rights museum

A crowd gathered at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg to watch Thursday’s reveal of Canada’s new $10 bill in Halifax were surprised to see that in addition to featuring a portrait of Viola Desmond, the new bill also includes a prominent image of the CMHR itself.

Desmond is the first black person, non-royal woman on a regularly circulating Canadian bill

Wanda Robson, the sister of Viola Desmond, smiles as the new $10 featuring her sister Viola Desmond is unveiled. (Canadian Press)

A crowd gathered at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg to watch Thursday's reveal of Canada's new $10 bill in Halifax got a bit of a surprise.

As well as featuring a portrait of famed human rights activist Viola Desmond, as previously announced, it was revealed Thursday the new bill also includes a prominent image of the CMHR on the reverse side of the bank note.

"It's hard to put into words how proud and excited I was to learn that our museum would be featured on this historic bank note," said CMHR president and CEO Dr. John Young, speaking at the Halifax ceremony where the bill's design was revealed.

"Viola Desmond's courage has inspired our visitors by demonstrating that one person can make a difference. 

"Hers is a story that all Canadians need to know and one that we are honoured to share."

A sample of the new $10 Canadian bill, featuring civil rights icon Viola Desmond, is seen in this handout image from the Bank of Canada. (Bank of Canada)

As well as the image of the outside of the CMHR, the back of the bill also includes an excerpt from the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and an eagle feather representing the continuing struggle for recognition of the rights of Canada's Indigenous people.

"This note … is a reflection of the museum's purpose to enhance the public's understanding of human rights, to promote respect for others and to encourage reflection and dialogue," Young said in his remarks, which were shown live at the CMHR.

"These are the values that Canadians aspire to and this new note will help teach Canadians, and indeed anyone who sees one of these bank notes, about the ongoing story of human rights in Canada."

Desmond is the first black person — and the first non-royal woman — to be featured on a regularly circulating Canadian bank note. 

"It was long overdue for a banknote to feature an iconic Canadian woman," said Stephen Poloz, Governor of the Bank of Canada to applause in both Winnipeg and Halifax.

"Bank notes are designed not only to be secure and durable but also to be works of art that tell the stories of Canada, and I'm confident you'll agree that this new $10 note fits the bill."

'Canada's Rosa Parks'

Desmond is often described as Canada's Rosa Parks after she refused to leave her seat in the "whites only" section at the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, N.S., in 1946.

Desmond, 32, was dragged out of the theatre by police and jailed.

The civil rights activist was convicted of defrauding the province of a one-penny tax — the difference in tax between a downstairs and upstairs ticket — even though Desmond had asked to pay the difference.

Segregation was legally ended in Nova Scotia in 1954, in part because of the publicity generated by Desmond's case.

Canadian civil rights icon, Viola Desmond, will be the first Canadian woman featured on the $10 bill as of 2018. CBC's Adrian Harewood spoke with her sister, Wanda Robson, about her legacy. Watch the interview on Our Ottawa. 9:22

Desmond's sister, Wanda Robson, was among those who spoke at Thursday's unveiling in Halifax.

"For once in my life I was speechless — this is beyond what I ever thought," she said of the first time she saw the note. "It's amazing, it's beautiful, it's unique … and it's got Winnipeg and the Museum [for] Human Rights — I've been there and it's wonderful. And to think, it's on my sister's bill."

Desmond was chosen for the note after an open call to Canadians to nominate an iconic Canadian woman brought in more than 26,000 responses.

The resulting purple $10 polymer bill is also the first vertically oriented bank note issued in Canada.

A spokesperson from the Bank of Canada tells CBC News the new bill won't be added to circulation until late 2018.

With files from Cassie Williams