'I'm flying on a high': Celebration marks launch of Viola Desmond $10 bill

About 90 people gathered Monday close to where Viola Desmond's hair salon once stood in Halifax to celebrate the newly circulating $10 banknote featuring the civil rights pioneer.

'I think that it's a reminder to keep fighting the good fight, even when you're outnumbered'

Sylvia Parris-Drummond shows off the new $10 bill honouring civil rights pioneer Viola Desmond. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

About 90 people gathered just off Halifax's Gottingen Street on Monday to celebrate the newly circulating $10 banknote featuring civil rights pioneer Viola Desmond.

People had a chance to exchange old banknotes for the new bill, featuring a vertical portrait of Desmond and a map of Halifax's historic north end, where she grew up.

"I just feel like I'm flying on a high," Sylvia Parris-Drummond, the CEO of the Delmore (Buddy) Daye Learning Institute, said after getting a Viola Desmond bill.

"It's so hard to kind of calm down and think, OK, remember the journey that got us here."

Parris-Drummond intends to frame her first bill, and she will get more to share with her family members.

"I'm getting some of these bills for my daughter and for some of my grandchildren, because it will always be a dialogue about, 'Why is she on there?' 'What did she do?'"

The bill went into circulation on Monday. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

In 1946, while making a stop on a business trip from Halifax, Desmond was arrested and tossed out of a New Glasgow, N.S., movie theatre for sitting in the whites-only section. She spent the night under arrest.

Her ensuing legal fight against that injustice helped end segregation in Nova Scotia. In 2010, she was posthumously awarded an apology and a free pardon.

The event Monday was held at the Daye institute, an organization dedicated to improving educational outcomes for black Nova Scotian students of all ages.

Desmond owned and operated a beauty salon on Gottingen Street and also opened a beauty school where she trained other young black women to start their own businesses.

This week, a series of events will be held in the neighbourhood to celebrate her life.

Kate Macdonald is the volunteer co-ordinator for the events.

'A reminder to keep fighting'

"I think it's really beautiful that an African-Nova Scotian woman who stood up for social justice is being honoured nationally," she said.

"I think that it's a reminder to keep fighting the good fight, even when you're outnumbered, or even when sometimes your voice might be silenced or ignored, it's a reminder to keep going."

Many speakers at the Halifax launch reminded the gathering that work to remove racism and foster social justice is not over. They suggested Desmond's story will help in educating the next generation.

"I think it's inspiring for black women, for young women who think about business," said Parris-Drummond. "It also tells us that a small action that we take can have big results."

The official launch of the bill took place at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, in the presence of Wanda Robson and her family. Robson is Desmond's youngest sister and has long campaigned for greater awareness for her sister's story.

Monique LeBlanc, the regional director of currency for the Bank of Canada, said people who want the new note can request one from their banking institution, which will issue them based on demand.

She said that people in Halifax might be able to get a note as soon as today or the end of this week.

About the Author

Shaina Luck

Reporter

Shaina Luck covers everything from court to city council. Her favourite stories are about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Email: shaina.luck@cbc.ca