While Americans are still waiting to deposit Harriet Tubmans in their bank accounts, our neighbors to the north have just unveiled a new $10 bill that features their own civil rights pioneer Viola Desmond.
As the Toronto Star reports, Desmond was honored Thursday in a ceremony in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where the new bill was unveiled. She’s the first black person to grace Canadian money, and the first nonroyal woman.
Desmond was picked for her seminal role in Canada’s civil rights movement. In November 1946, she refused to leave a whites-only section of a Nova Scotia movie theater. Authorities had to drag her out of the theater, and Desmond was thrown in jail for 12 hours and fined for her disobedience. Her actions predate those of her better-known counterpart, Rosa Parks, by nearly a decade, the Star notes.
The purple note does more than mark a dramatic first (it’s also the first vertically oriented bill in Canada’s history). It could popularize a part of Canadian history that is overlooked or downright forgotten.
Isaac Saney, a senior instructor of black studies at Dalhousie University, told the Star that many Canadians don’t know that slavery and segregation existed in their country, and are far more familiar with America’s civil rights history and its icons.
“We know more about Rosa Parks than Viola Desmond,” Saney said. “We know more about Martin Luther King than perhaps we know about W.P. Oliver”—a social justice advocate and reverend.
Canadians can start stacking and spending their Desmonds at the end of the year, when the bill enters circulation.