A Winnipeg high school student who put pen to paper to tell the story of Viola Desmond's struggle for justice after being arrested for sitting in the whites-only section of a Nova Scotia movie theatre has earned a Governor General's History Award for her work.

Elly Hooker, 15, is one of two young Canadians heading to Ottawa this week to be honoured with the Kayak Kids' Illustrated History Challenge, a prize meant to foster the artistic talents and historic knowledge of students between the ages of seven and 14.

Hooker, who is now in Grade 10 at Linden Christian School, told Desmond's story through an eight-page comic she wrote and illustrated for a social studies project last year. 

Elly Hooker comic

Hooker's eight-page comic book tells the story of Viola Desmond's success as a businesswoman and how she sparked the civil rights movement in Canada. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

"I think she's got guts — she was a black woman and she was a really successful business woman which was not common in that time period — so I think she's a really cool figure in history because she had all these accomplishments but they treated her so horribly just because she was black," said Hooker, who says she first learned about Desmond through an exhibit at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. "I wanted to learn more about what her story was all about — especially because she's going to be on the 10 dollar bill soon."

Sparking a movement

Desmond, who found success running a beauty school and marketing a line of beauty products catered especially to women with darker skin tones, helped to start the modern civil rights movement in Canada after refusing to leave her seat in a racially segregated New Glasgow, N.S. movie theatre in November 1946.

Only white people were allowed to sit on the main floor, but Desmond refused to sit in the balcony section and was forcibly removed from the theatre, arrested, and kept in jail overnight.

She was convicted of tax evasion for not paying the one-cent difference in tax between the main floor and balcony seat.

Desmond spent the rest of her life trying to clear her name, but died in 1965. Her sister kept up the fight and in 2010 Desmond was granted a posthumous pardon by the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia.

Last December Desmond was chosen to be the first Canadian woman to appear on the $10 note.

Black rights activist Viola Desmond to be featured on $10 bill in 20180:37

"It ended up sparking a movement in Nova Scotia to raise awareness about segregation laws and rights for black people," said Hooker, who says she connected with Desmond's story because she feels it's important Canadians take responsibility for our history — both the good and the bad.

"This was still less than 100 years ago — I think it's important that we acknowledge that and learn more about it."

After spending weeks working on her comic — and asking for an extension to get it done over her spring break — Hooker's teacher suggested she enter the work into the Governor General's History Award competition. 

Elly Hooker drawing

Elly Hooker, 15, says she'll use the $1,000 that comes along with the prize towards getting a fine arts degree. She says she wants to become an illustrator after going to university. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Hooker says she was shocked to learn she'd won.

"Obviously it was a huge honour," she told CBC. "I could hardly even say anything, honestly."

Eight-year-old Isaac Landry of Murdochville, Quebec was also selected to win the prize for his French-language comic depicting the voyage of Jacques Cartier in 1534. In brightly coloured pencil crayon, Landry explores his arrival on the continent — but also highlights Cartier's kidnapping of the Iroquois people.

Hooker and Landry will both be presented their prize, which includes a $1,000 RESP, at a special ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa Nov. 22.

With files from Jill Coubrough