Nova Scotia

Viola Desmond family documents donated to Beaton Institute

The youngest sister of Canadian civil rights icon Viola Desmond has donated her collection of family documents to the Beaton Institute of Cape Breton University.

Civil rights icon's sister Wanda Robson donates family documents to Cape Breton University archives

Viola Desmond's sister Wanda Robson has had a long affiliation with Cape Breton University. (CBC)

The youngest sister of Canadian civil rights icon Viola Desmond has donated her collection of family documents to the Beaton Institute of Cape Breton University.

Wanda Robson, of North Sydney, graduated with a bachelor of arts degree from Cape Breton University in 2004 at the age of 77.

Now, she's donating photographs, letters, newspaper clippings and other historic documents relating to her and her sister's lives.

Desmond arrested in 1946

Robson received an honorary doctorate from the university in 2012 for extraordinary service to the community and for raising public awareness of Desmond's story.

Desmond was arrested in New Glasgow in 1946 for refusing to leave the whites-only section of a movie theatre.

Canadian civil rights icon Viola Desmond. (Wanda Robson)

Robson was instrumental in keeping Desmond's story alive and, largely through her efforts, Desmond was granted a posthumous free pardon by the Nova Scotia government in 2010.

Robson told CBC News it's not easy to give up her possessions, but she wanted the material to be "immortalized" at the Beaton.

"For the institute to have pictures, clippings, anything pertaining to Viola's act — for students, visitors, for anybody, it'll be all there for them to realize and remember," she said.

Vintage photographs

Robson says she "elected" herself the family historian, compiling family photos, important correspondence and other documents.

The material includes everything from vintage photographs to Desmond's graduation certificate from two beauty schools.

There are also items related to Robson's life as member of the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women, her 25 years in the Girl Guide movement and, of course, her long-time efforts to gain recognition for "Viola's act of bravery."

Robson says the Beaton Institute plan to mount an exhibit with some of the materials.

The Robson collection will be formally donated on June 9, which is International Archives Day.