(July 6, 1914 – February 7, 1965)
A successful businesswoman and beautician in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Viola Desmond is often described as Canada’s Rosa Parks since on November 8, 1946 she refused to sit in the balcony designated exclusively for blacks in the Roseland Theatre. After deciding to see a movie while waiting for her car to be repaired, Desmond requested floor seats and paid for the ticket, then, although a Black Nova Scotian, took her seat on the ground floor, designated white only. As she watched the movie, she was approached and asked to move, but claiming an inability to see from the balcony, she refused. After being forcibly removed and arrested, Desmond was eventually found guilty of not paying the one-cent difference in tax on the balcony ticket from the main floor theatre ticket (since, although she had requested a floor ticket, had actually purchased a ticket for the balcony where Blacks were forced to sit). (Martin 2010). She was sentenced to 30 days in jail and was ordered to pay a total of S26 in fines.
Not content with the verdict, with the support of the NSACCP (The Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People), Desmond fought her conviction to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. Despite the fact that “this was clearly a miscarriage of justice based solely in the theatre’s racist policy, the conviction was upheld” (Martin 2010). While it received little attention at the time outside of Nova Scotia, the case has since gained notoriety as a crucial incident in Canada’s mid-20th century civil rights campaigns. Many of those familiar with Desmond’s action compare her to famed American civil-rights activist Rosa Parks and her 1955 refusal to vacate a bus seat so that a white passenger could sit down in Montgomery, Alabama (CBC 2006) but Martin and Desmond’s family emphasize the Canadian and Nova Scotian context for her example of ‘direct action’. Once again, in other words, in order to make complete sense of the significance of individuals and events, we need consider both the local and the global stage. On April 14, 2010—64 years after she was dragged out of the Roseland Theatre, Desmond was pardoned by Nova Scotia Lieutenant Governor Mayann Francis.
Black History Canada. ‘Viola Desmond.’ Available online: http://blackhistorycanada.ca/profiles.php?themeid=20&id=13
Blaze Carlson, Kathryn (14 April 2010), “‘Canada’s Rosa Parks,’ Viola Desmond, posthumously pardoned,” National Post
Maritime Magazine, CBC. ‘Tribute to Viola Desmond.’ Available online:
Martin, Renee. 2010. ‘Viola Desmond is Not Canada’s Rosa Parks.’ Available online: http://globalcomment.com/2010/viola-desmond-is-not-canadas-rosa-parks/
Robson, Wanda. ‘The Story of Viola Desmond.’ Available online: http://www.cbv.ns.ca/rv/african%20canadian%20pictures.html