Last month, Canada’s brand new $10 bill was released, which, in addition to being our country’s first vertical banknote, also acts as a monumental proponent of human rights in Canada – in more ways than one! First, one side of the bill features the face of Viola Desmond, making her the first Canadian woman to be featured on one of our circulating banknotes. Viola Desmond was a civil rights and social justice pioneer who fought for the rights of Black Canadians facing racial discrimination. Back in the early 20th century, Desmond was a budding businesswoman who ran a beauty school in Nova Scotia. Her work at the time made her a mentor to many young black women and a major influence in her community.
In November 1946, Desmond’s car broke down on the way to a business meeting in Sydney, Nova Scotia, leading her to spend the night in the community of New Glasgow. During her stay, she decided to go to the local theatre to watch a film. As the main floor at the time was marked for “whites only”, she was only permitted to purchase a ticket for the balcony section. Despite this rule, Viola Desmond bravely sat in the main floor section of the theatre and refused to leave her seat when the police were called. This event led Desmond to be forcefully arrested and shortly after charged and convicted “for failing to pay the extra penny in theatre tax required for the downstairs seat”. This conviction not only showcased blatant racial discrimination but also ignored the fact that Desmond had asked to pay the price difference that would allow her to sit in the main floor section of the theatre. This case was a driving force in addressing issues of racial discrimination not only in Nova Scotia but across Canada. The inclusion of Viola Desmond on the new $10 bill is an immense step forward for the Canadian human rights movement as her drive for justice and equality continues to resonate with Canadians today.
The influence that Winnipeg as a city has had on the bill should also be noted! The backside of the bill features the iconic Canadian Human Rights Museum, which symbolizes and reminds Canadians that we must all continuously participate in the pursuit of human rights in Canada. This is also the first museum to ever be featured on a Canadian banknote! This visibility will hopefully inspire people to come visit the museum and learn more about human rights through its exhibits.
Winnipegger Michael Redhead Champagne was also one of seven Advisory Council Members chosen to select the Canadian woman that would appear on the new bill. For years Michael has worked in Winnipeg’s North End engaging and assisting Indigenous youth through the founding of organizations like AYO! (Aboriginal Youth Opportunities) and initiatives such as Meet Me at the Bell Tower and Fearless R2W. His drive and success in creating real change in Winnipeg made him an ideal choice for the Advisory Council and showcases the influence Winnipeg and its citizens can have on nationwide matters.
It is inspiring to see Canada making this bold statement promoting human rights on our new $10 bill and the fact that Winnipeg has been able to have such an influence on the process is something we should be proud of. In the end, however, we cannot forget about the work that must still be done both locally and globally to fight for human rights. While using this new banknote, let’s remember Viola Desmond’s resilience and consider how we can each work to make this nation a more accepting and equitable place.