Civil Rights Activist to be First Canadian Woman on Banknote

Wanda Robson takes part in an interview after her sister Viola Desmond was chosen to be featured on a new $10 bank note following a ceremony at the Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada, December 8, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

OTTAWA, Dec 8  – Viola Desmond, a black businesswoman who challenged racial segregation in Canada in 1946, will be the new face of the C$10 bill, the government said on Thursday, making her the first Canadian woman to be featured on a bank note.

Desmond refused to leave a whites-only Nova Scotia movie theater in an incident that took place nearly a decade before Rosa Parks’ refusal to move to the segregated part of a bus in the United States. Desmond was subsequently jailed, convicted and fined.

While the Queen of England appears on most Canadian currency, Desmond is the first Canadian woman to be featured on a regularly circulating bank note.

“Viola Desmond is a woman who broke barriers, who provided an inspiration for Canadians around social justice issues and showed that each of us individually in courageous moments can make a difference,” said Finance Minister Bill Morneau.

Desmond, who died in 1965, was chosen from thousands of submissions after an open call for candidates earlier this year. The short list included social activists, an engineer, a poet and an athlete.

“Viola inspires us … today as she inspired people years ago,” said her sister Wanda Robson, who attended the announcement on Thursday.

“I’m so proud, I’m almost in tears.”

Desmond will replace John A. Macdonald, Canada‘s first prime minister, when the new bill debuts in late 2018. Macdonald will be moved to a higher denomination bill.

The Canadian government is also planning to redesign the C$5 bill and will launch another search for a new Canadian to take the place of Wilfrid Laurier, Canada‘s first francophone prime minister. Laurier will also be moved to a higher bill.

Putting a woman on a banknote was the latest step the one-year-old Liberal government has taken to promote gender equality, a major plank of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s election campaign.

The move followed in the footsteps of the United States, which earlier this year said anti-slavery crusader Harriet Tubman will replace former President Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, becoming the first woman featured on U.S. paper currency in more than a century.

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