I’d like to some take time and write about a woman that had an incredible impact on Canada back in the early 1900’s from a cultural and social perspective. Her name was Viola Desmond.
So who was she?
Mrs. Desmond was born in Canada in the city of Halifax located within the province of Nova Scotia on July 6, 1914 to James Albert, a Black man & Gwendolin Irene, a White woman. As can be expected during that time, it would’ve been considered highly unusual for a white individual to marry a person of African descent. She passed away from a gastrointestinal hemorrhage on February 7, 1965 at the age of 50.
Why was she important to Canadian culture & society?
She is noted as the first Black woman within Canadian history that stood against the racial segregation during the early 1900’s in Canada. She courageously refused to exit the “Whites-Only” section at the Roseland Theatre located in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. This subsequently led to a 12 hour arrest and a tax evasion conviction as the “Whites-Only” seat had an additional 1 cent tax when compared to the other seats. This case involving Mrs. Desmond was a widely publicized incident involving racial discrimination that helped ignite the civil rights movement within Canada.
Aside from her event involving the theatre seating, Mrs. Desmond noticed a lack of professional hair & skin care products for Black women in Nova Scotia. To further make matters difficult, Black women were not allowed to become beautician’s in Halifax. So what was her answer to this blatant racism? She went to Montreal to receive beautician training which she brought back to Halifax to start her own salon where Black women could come in to have their hair & skin taken care of. Impressively, she even took the step of opening up her own school called The Desmond School of Beauty Culture that allowed Black women to receive beauty training without travelling the long distance she had to travel.
Because of her important contributions to Canadian society, she received an posthumous free pardon from the Government of Canada – the very first one granted. A portrait of her is hanging in the Halifax Government House to this very day.
Thank you for taking the time to learn about Viola Desmond, she was an incredible Canadian individual that helped make positive change to our awesome country.
References for further reading:
http://www.womenspost.ca – in article written by Kaeleigh Phillips about Viola Desmond.