Saturday, 18 June 2016

Viola Desmond

Black Canadian Viola Desmond owned a beauty parlour in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  On a cold, blustery day in 1946, she set out on a business trip to Sydney, but her car broke down in New Glasgow.  The mechanic said it would take hours to fix so she took in a movie to pass the time.

After buying her ticket, and finding her seat at the Roseland Theatre, Viola was interrupted by the manager who said she would have to take a seat upstairs in the balcony "where her people sat".  Just as Rosa Parks would refuse to move to the back of the bus nine years later, Viola Desmond refused to move to the balcony. The police were called and Viola was thrown in jail and charged with a trumped up account of tax evasion (the price difference between a main floor ticket, 40 cents, and a balcony ticket, 30 cents).

Viola lost her case as well as a subsequent appeal and was forced to pay a fine.  In 2010, the Nova Scotia government formally pardoned Viola posthumously.  Canada Post issued a stamp in her honour in 2012.  The documentary, Long Road to Justice:  The Viola Desmond Story tells what happened on that blustery day in 1946 (

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