Seeing Viola Desmond's name in big letters on the bow of a new Halifax ferry Thursday brought tears to Wanda Robson's eyes. 

"What a day. I can hardly believe it," said Robson, Desmond's sister.

"I want you to imagine that Viola's grandfather was born a slave to a slave in Richmond, Virginia, you know. It's wonderful to think about all the things that has happened to her and to us as a black population. She has really made a mark."

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Viola Desmond is a Nova Scotia civil rights hero.

Desmond's fight against racism helped push for the end of segregation in Nova Scotia. 

In 1946, her car broke down in New Glasgow. As she waited for the repairs, she went to the local movie theatre. She refused to leave the whites only section, and was dragged out by police and thrown in jail overnight.  

Only six years ago, the Nova Scotia government posthumously awarded Desmond an apology and pardon.

Wanda and Viola Desmond

The legacy of Viola Desmond, right, who became a civil rights icon for her actions in the late 1940s, has been kept alive over the decades by her sister Wanda, left. (Submitted by Wanda Robson)

Educate and inspire

More than 19,000 people cast ballots for a new ferry name last fall, and Viola Desmond won by a landslide

"Her commitment to civil rights continues to educate and to inspire, highlighting yes, so far we have come, but reminding us that as individuals and as a community, we must continue on this path," community leader Rev. Rhonda Britton said. 

"It's just a moment of pride and affirmation to say that we're all human beings and all of us are just people trying to make it the best we can in this world."

'So wonderful'

Desmond was also a huge supporter of education, leaving money in her will so nieces and nephews could afford to study, Robson said. 

"Viola had the pardon, the stamp and now this," Robson said. "I'm going to cry, I just can't help it. It's so wonderful."

The Viola Desmond's first public sailing is Monday.

With files from Amy Smith