The new Bank of Canada $10 note will be the first verticle note in Canada, and feature Viola Davis, a successful business woman of colour who refused to leave a whites-only area of a movie theatre in 1946. (Bank of Canada)

B.C. connection to launch of new $10 bill

Great nephew of Viola Desmond says bill is a ‘step in the right direction’

While he has yet to hold a copy of the $10 bill in his hand, a Vancouver Island doctor has a special connection to a new banknote being released Monday.

Doctor Sterling Desmond is the great nephew of Viola Desmond, the late Nova Scotia civil rights pioneer who was jailed in 1946 for sitting in the whites-only section of a movie theatre in New Glasgow, N.S.

She was chosen amongst hundreds of candidates to be featured on the new bill.

“I think it’s a step in the right direction … along with reconciliation, nothing is perfect under the sun, but it acts in some way to write some of the wrongs that were done,” said Desmond, who now practices in Comox but grew up in Winnipeg with a Caucasian mother and a black father.

He said the new bill represents a legacy of courage.

“Courage is never seen at the moment in time, but it’s seen afterward. It’s an uplifting note to younger generations to show that one person – just one – can always make a difference.

Viola – who died in 1965 – was a businesswoman and a beautician, who ran a beauty school. As many as 15 women – who had been denied admission to whites-only training schools – graduated each year from her school.

Viola’s face will adorn the front of Canada’s $10 bill. While other women have appeared on Canadian currency, the Queen is the only woman to have graced the front of a bank note.

The bill will also be the first vertically-designed note and feature several art pieces including a map of part of Halifax where Desmond’s business was located.

RELATED: New vertical $10 bill coming into circulation November 19

“Canadians can use this note with both confidence and pride,” said Bank of Canada governor Stephen S. Poloz in a statement.

Desmond noted the bill can also serve an educational purpose and open up a discussion of discrimination in Canada.

He said while he has seen design copies of the bill, he has yet to obtain a copy but hopes to sometime soon.

The bill was officially launched Monday at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg.

-With files from Scott Stanfield

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