Viola Desmond and Civil Rights in Canada


The Bank of Canada has selected Canadian civil rights pioneer Viola Desmond as the first Canadian woman to appear on our money.

Desmond, an icon of the human rights and freedoms movement in Canada, was selected from a short list of five iconic Canadian women by Minister [Bill] Morneau, in accordance with the Bank of Canada Act. A successful Nova Scotia businesswoman, she is known for defiantly refusing to leave a whites-only area of a movie theatre in 1946. She was subsequently jailed, convicted and fined. Her court case was the first known legal challenge against racial segregation brought forth by a Black woman in Canada. (Via the Bank of Canada.)

The selection of Ms. Desmond highlights the importance of activism to our country, and the fight for progress. It is worth noting that Ms. Desmond’s arrest for viewing a movie from a “whites only section” took place as Canada was taking part in discussing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This was an important law, and a precursor to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. (For more on the Charter, click here.) Ms. Desmond’s case highlights the importance of rights, and the battle for equality.

Ms. Desmond’s act of civil disobedience highlighted that inequality was enshrined in law. Her protest and subsequent arrest helped the Canadian civil rights movement, and the decision by the Bank of Canada to feature her on our money highlights her importance. If you would like to read more on Ms. Desmond and issues surrounding her case, I would recommend the following:

Viola Desmond Won't Be Budged

Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged

1. Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged by Jody Nyasha Warner

This is a great book for children, and shares the infamous story in a clear, entertaining, and informative manner.

2. Your Guide to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Produced by the Department of Heritage, this guide explains this important piece of legislation in clear and accessible language.



Title Page of Book

Elijah of Buxton

3. Elijah of Buxton by (Windsor’s own) Christopher Paul Curtis.

This story is of a young boy living in Canada after his family has fled slavery. This is a great story for all ages, and provides a window into the early Canadian life for people who escaped slavery.

4. Memoir of  Black Canadian Activist by Lyle Talbot.

This memoir details the life of Lyle Talbot, a man born near Dresden Ontario who’s life was impacted by a racist incident that occured before he was even born. Talbot was also a pioneering activist, who took on racial injustice right here in Windsor Ontario.


The Honourable Lincoln M. Alexander : A Memoir

“Go To School, You’re A Little Black Boy” – The Honourable Lincoln M. Alexander : A Memoir

5. Go To School, You’re a Little Black Boy: The Honourable Lincoln M. Alexander by The Honourable Lincoln. M. Alexander.

The memoirs of Canada’s first black member of parliament, this book tells the story of Mr. Alexander’s remarkable life.

Of course there are far more than just five items on these topics. If you’d like to research more, I would recommend checking out our Database page. The Canadian Reference Center, Canadian Encyclopedia , and Canadian NewsStand in particular are excellent resources for extensive research on topics such as Viola Desmond, civil rights, and much much more.

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