It’s 1946 and you want to go to see a movie. The theatre is in the town of New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. Seems simple enough. What if you are a black woman? What if the woman in the ticket window told you that you can’t have a seat on the floor, you have to sit on the balcony. What would you do?
Disclosure: There are Amazon Affiliate links in this article which means, at no additional cost to you, we could receive compensation for our recommendations. You can read our full disclosure policy on our Disclosure Page for more details.
If you were Viola Desmond, you would buy your ticket for the balcony and take a seat in the floor section. You would stand up for what you think is right and you would awaken a country to the ever-present discrimination against black Canadians.
Raising empathetic, open minded and respectful children isn’t as difficult as you might think. Introducing children to people who have fought discrimination, who have had an impact on the lives of others is one way. As a part of the Multicultural Kids Black History Month series, we decided to explore the life of Viola Desmond – a significant figure in Canadian Black history. When embarking on this biography project we wanted to learn who Viola was, what was the significant event, what was the impact at the time and what is her legacy. Here is what we uncovered.
The Story of Viola Desmond for Kids
Viola Desmond was born in 1914 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. When Viola graduated from high school she wanted to attend a beautician school in Halifax. However, because she was of African descent she wasn’t allowed to attend the school. Viola made the decision to head to Montreal to attend school – she also travelled to Atlantic City and New York to pursue her education. When Viola finished her education she returned to Halifax where she opened a very successful salon. In the coming years, Viola opened The Desmond School of Beauty Culture – providing black women with a school option on Canada’s east coast. Viola was quite the entrepreneur and launched a line of beauty products Vi’s Beauty Products.
What was the significant event?
In 1946, Viola’s car broke down while she was travelling through the town of New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. While her car was being worked on, Viola decided to see a movie at the local theatre. Although Viola had enough money to purchase the main floor ticket, she wasn’t allowed to – she was only allowed to sit in the black’s only balcony. Viola refused to sit on the balcony and chose to take a seat in the main floor area. She was forcibly removed from the theatre, carried off to jail and charged with tax evasion. Viola paid the fine because she simply wanted to get home to Halifax.
What was the impact?
When Viola returned home she met with her church and her family – Viola decided to appeal the court’s decision. She appealed the conviction to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. Viola’s story drew the attention of the public in Nova Scotia and across Canada. Although she lost the appeal, Viola’s story grew and started discussions about discrimination against black persons and segregation in Canada.
What is Viola Desmond’s legacy?
In 2010, the government of Nova Scotia granted Viola Desmond the first-ever posthumous pardon. They also offered an official apology to Viola’s family for the error of justice. In 2010 a Viola Desmond stamp was released by Canada Post. In 2018 a significant recognition of Viola’s impact on Canada was the introduction of Viola Desmond on the Canadian $10 bill. Viola is the first person of colour on Canada’s currency and the first woman, other than the Queen, to grace our currency. The newly designed $10 banknote has a unique vertical design and includes a number of symbolic features. Take a read through this piece from The Bank of Canada to learn more about this award winning banknote.
Viola Desmond Children’s Books and More
Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged by Jody Nyasha Warner
Viola Desmond – A Woman’s Brave Stand Against Discrimination in Canada by Professor Beaver
Historica Canada – https://www.historicacanada.ca/content/heritage-minutes/viola-desmond
Viola Desmond Activity for Kids
After learning the story of Viola Desmond and doing some further research with the books listed above we’ve created a simple Viola Desmond activity for kids. Print off our Who was Viola Desmond worksheet and have your child, or students, list 5 facts about Viola Desmond. A great way to retain the information they have learned.
Today’s post is part of the annual Black History Month series Please, take a read through the posts that have been shared – exploring the rich history and cultures of Africa and African-Americans.
Embracing Diversity: Afro-Latinos and Baseball’s Color Line – 5 Pioneers in the Post-Segregation Era
Hispanic Mama: 5 Latino Dishes that Feature Our African Heritage
Mama Smiles: How to Use Stories to Teach Children Black History
Colours of Us: 21 Award-Winning Children’s Books for Black History Month
Crafty Moms Share: The Real Women Mathematicians of Hidden Figures
All Done Monkey: History of STEM – Black Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas
Check out all of these amazing anti-racism educators on Instagram
Make sure you are following along…
SUBSCRIBE TO KITCHEN COUNTER CHRONICLES TO HAVE OUR DELICIOUS RECIPES, FUN CRAFTS & ACTIVITIES DELIVERED DIRECTLY TO YOUR INBOX.
FOLLOW KITCHEN COUNTER CHRONICLES ON