Protest Art Contest – Honouring Viola Desmond

Canadians will now be reminded of Viola Desmond’s valiant actions through their currency, as she is the new face on the 10-dollar bill starting this year.

Viola is the first Canadian woman to appear on the nation’s currency, and behind her polymer image is the inspirational story of Desmond’s impact on human rights in 1940s Canada and how she became an icon. 

Viola’s Story

Viola Desmond was a businesswoman from Halifax, Nova Scotia, who was trained as a beautician and operated her own beauty salon. At the time, none of the beauty schools in Atlantic Canada would accept black candidates. Seeing a need in her community, Desmond opened her own beauty school in Halifax and trained young black women who were later able to open their own beauty parlours and become entrepreneurs. Her business quickly expanded across the province.  

On November 8, 1946, Desmond was travelling to Cape Breton on a business trip when her car broke down in New Glasgow. While she waited for her car to be repaired, she decided to attend a film  at the Roseland Theatre. Desmond requested a ticket for seating in the main level of the theatre but was refused because it was a “whites only” section. Instead, she was sold a ticket to the upper section of the theatre. In an act of protest, Desmond sat in the main level anyway. When she refused to leave her seat, Desmond was arrested, fined, and jailed overnight. Desmond fought the conviction and was supported throughout the proceedings; however, she lost the case and then, later, her appeal.

To avoid causing a scene, the easy choice would have been to move to a balcony seat or leave the theatre altogether. Instead, Desmond protested the injustice, and in doing so, she stoked the fire of human rights activism and motivated people to debate the issue. Desmond’s determination to see justice for herself and the black community helped end segregation in Nova Scotia and across Canada.

Getting Viola Her Justice

Over 70 years later, the Roseland Theatre was acquired by Jamie MacGillivray, founder of MacGillivray Injury and Insurance Law. He is investing in restoring the building and hopes that, once complete, the restored building will improve the area and bring the New Glasgow community closer.

MacGillivray is an admirer of Desmond’s tenacity and believes the building will serve a greater purpose. As part of the restoration, MacGillivray Injury and Insurance Law is hosting a Protest Art Contest and collecting artwork from across Atlantic Canada inspired by Viola’s story. Winning artwork will be featured on the outside of the very building where her brave act took place.  This physical display will help ensure that her story will be remembered for years to come.

The contest is open to all ages and offers $20,000 in awards. The deadline to submit artwork is May 31st, so if you want to participate, read more about the contest’s guidelines. We look forward to receiving many creative submissions inspired by Viola’s act of protest!