Manitoba

Civil rights icon Viola Desmond celebrated at human rights museum

A Canadian Museum for Human Rights' display dedicated to Viola Desmond, one of Canada's civil rights heroes, has touched the heart of her elderly sister.
A Canadian Museum for Human Rights' display dedicated to Viola Desmond, one of Canada's civil rights heroes, has touched the heart of her elderly sister. 2:06

A Canadian Museum for Human Rights' display dedicated to Viola Desmond, one of Canada's civil rights heroes, has touched the heart of her elderly sister.

This is bringing back what my sister has done on this journey to justice," said Wanda Robson, who visited the CMHR during a visit to Winnipeg on Tuesday.

"I am so proud, happy and grateful that I am able to bring my sister's story and be here. I can't thank them [CMHR] enough."

Viola Desmond was a black businesswoman who, on Nov. 8 1946, sat in a racially-segregated movie theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. At the time, blacks were supposed to sit in the balcony.

Desmond refused and was taken out by police and jailed overnight. For the next 12 hours, she sat upright on the hard jail bench, wearing her white gloves (a sign of sophistication at the time).

Travis Price (left to right) poses with Wanda Robson and Stuart Murray, president and CEO of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, on Tuesday. (Wendy Buelow/CBC)
Her stand, which happened nine years before Rosa Parks' action in the U.S., was a seminal event in Canada's civil rights movement. Desmond's high-profile fight to appeal her conviction generated so much publicity, Nova Scotia was forced to throw out its segregation laws in 1954.

She died in 1965 at the age of 50.

In 2010 she received a posthumous pardon from the Nova Scotia government, which apologized to her family. In 2012, she was featured on a commemorative stamp from Canada Post.

Her story is featured in the CMHR's gallery called Canadian Journeys. Another Nova Scotian, Travis Price, is featured in the gallery called Actions Count.

In 2007, Price and a friend bought and distributed pink shirts to support another male student who was bullied for wearing a pink shirt. As a result of this effort, Nova Scotia adopted a provincial day to stand up against bullying.

Anti-bullying days are now celebrated on various dates all across the world, initially inspired by the efforts of the two teens in Nova Scotia.

Price was also at the museum Tuesday.

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