Canada’s Rosa Parks

When we think of civil rights, we tend to focus on our own (considerable) struggles.  But other countries have had periods of turmoil, too.

Consider Canada.  Viola Desmond was a businesswoman who owned a beauty salon and school.  She was traveling across Canada, looking to expand her business, when her car broke down in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia on November 8, 1946.  To pass the time while her car was being fixed, she went to the Roseland Theater and purchased a ticket.

Except she was African-American and in New Glasgow, people of color were relegated to the balcony.  Because she was nearsighted and needed to sit close to the screen, she bought her balcony ticket… and then sat on the main floor anyway.

That didn’t go over very well.  When she refused to move, she was dragged out of the theater by the police, losing a shoe and handbag in the process, not to mention bruises.  The irony is there was no legal basis for segregated theaters, so she hadn’t broken any laws.  But the town’s authorities had to charge her with something, so they claimed tax evasion — by buying a cheaper balcony ticket (the only ticket they would sell her), and sitting in a higher-priced section of the theater, she had cheated the province out of the tax revenue on the difference in price.  By the way, that difference was one penny.  So she was locked up overnight, convicted, and fined $20 plus a $6 cost awarded to the theater.

This was a turning point.  Civil-rights advocates, including the recently formed Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, rallied around her and and supported a legal challenge to her conviction.  Although the judgment against her was never overturned, Nova Scotia did pass a Fair Accommodations Act in 1959 which outlawed racial discrimination.

That’s why Viola Desmond is known today as the Canadian Rosa Parks.  Current plans are to  place her on the Canadian $10 bill.


Information for this article came from .  The photo also came from that site.






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