Nova Scotia

New street in Montreal to be named after Viola Desmond

Wanda Robson is "excited and proud" that Montreal is honouring her late sister, Viola Desmond, by naming a new street after her.

Council will formally approve street naming in June; street planned for Halifax as well

A portrait of Viola Desmond, circa 1940. (Communications Nova Scotia/Bank of Canada/Flickr)

Montreal will soon name a new street after Nova Scotia civil rights icon Viola Desmond.

The city sent a letter to Desmond's sister, Wanda Robson, announcing council's decision to make a formal vote in June to name a street Rue Viola-Desmond on a redeveloped piece of land between the neighbourhoods of La Salle and Verdun. 

"These accolades for Viola have been coming and coming and coming," Robson told CBC's Information Morning.

"And with each one I think, well what's next? But to have a street named for her in Montreal is certainly a double honour."

Montreal was important to Desmond's family 

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.

Robson said Montreal played an important role for Desmond and several of their siblings in the 1930s and 1940s because of racism and lack of opportunities for African-Nova Scotians in Halifax. 

Viola Desmond's sister Wanda Robson. (CBC)

"In my family — five sisters and two brothers — relocated to Montreal from Halifax," Robson said. "There were no jobs here for blacks at that time. Viola herself wanted to be a teacher and she was not admitted to the teachers college in Truro. So, one went to Montreal and then the rest of the siblings followed." 

Two of Robson's sisters still live in Montreal, along with most of their families. 

Street naming also planned in Halifax

The naming announcement from Montreal caps a busy couple of years in terms of honouring Desmond. 

Last February, Desmond's name won a municipal voting contest in Halifax to name the new harbour ferry

In December, the Bank of Canada announced Desmond would replace Sir John A. Macdonald on the Canadian $10 bill.

It was then announced in March that a new classroom book about Desmond would be distributed and taught in Grade 3 classes in public schools across Nova Scotia.

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 Robso, left. (Submitted by Wanda Robson)

And there's word from Halifax that a new street will be named after Desmond as well. 

In July 2013, Halifax regional council approved Viola Desmond as a commemorative name for future use. 

The developer behind the Parks at West Bedford development has reserved her name for one of the future streets there. 

With files from Information Morning.