Nova Scotia

History comes full circle as New Glasgow names part of street for Viola Desmond

Viola's Way will be near the Roseland Theatre, where Desmond was arrested in 1946 for refusing to leave the whites-only section of the movie theatre.

'It shows the complete turnaround of yesterday and today'

A portion of a street in New Glasgow will be named Viola's Way in honour of Viola Desmond. A ceremony will be held this Friday. (CBC)

Just days after her Canada's Walk of Fame star was unveiled in Halifax, Nova Scotia civil rights pioneer Viola Desmond will have part of a street named in her honour in New Glasgow, N.S.

The distinction comes in the same town where Desmond was arrested for sitting in the whites-only section of the town's movie theatre more than 70 years ago.

Wanda Robson is the youngest sister of Nova Scotia civil rights icon Viola Desmond. (Robert Short/CBC)
"It means so much to our family because it's history," Desmond's 91-year-old sister Wanda Robson, of North Sydney, said in an interview. "It's awesome."

Robson chose the street's name

At noon on Friday, on what would have marked Desmond's 104th birthday, the town will unveil a street sign for Viola's Way at the corner of Provost and Forbes streets.

It is right next to the former Roseland Theatre, the same place where the Desmond incident happened. Robson picked the new name.

Desmond, a businesswoman and beautician, was jailed for one night in 1946 for not abiding by the theatre's policy that forced black people to sit in the balcony. Her case helped end racial segregation in Nova Scotia.

Desmond died in 1965 at age 50.

Viola Desmond was arrested at the former Roseland Theatre. (Submitted by Alexis MacDonald)
"It shows the complete turnaround of yesterday and today," Robson said. "It shows that New Glasgow has embraced Viola and her action. For the Town of New Glasgow to honour Viola and her family in this way, it's rewarding."

Opportunity to share Desmond's story

The idea to name the street after Desmond came from New Glasgow native Angela Bowden, a member of the town's race-relations committee.

"With opportunities like this it's an opportunity to have the conversation around why this is significant and … what a difference she's made in the lives of many," New Glasgow Mayor Nancy Dicks said.

A Halifax ferry is also named after Desmond. Canada's new $10 bill, to be released later this year, will also feature Desmond's image.