Eighty-three years after the Bank of Canada was created, a Canadian woman will be featured on the front of a standard bank note for the first time.
The new $10 bill — revealed Thursday, also International Women's Day — features Nova Scotia civil-rights activist Viola Desmond on its front and Winnipeg's Canadian Museum for Human Rights on its back.
Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz unveiled the crisp purple currency at a ceremony in Halifax, with help from Desmond's younger sister, Wanda Robson. The event was livestreamed to about 100 people at the human rights museum in its Canadian Journeys exhibit, which features information on Desmond, who died in 1965.
Robson's reaction to seeing her sister on the $10 bill was the highlight of the ceremony. In a pre-taped video, she unwrapped the banknote from an envelope and inspected it with a magnifying glass.
On stage in Halifax, she snatched the first bill from Finance Minister Bill Morneau and told him he wasn't getting it back (the new bills won't officially be in circulation until later this year).
"This is amazing, unique and it will go down, our family will go down in history," Robson said to raucous applause.
She also mentioned visiting the Winnipeg museum to see the exhibit on her sister.
"In Winnipeg, the museum for human rights, I’ve been there; it’s magnificent. And to think that it’s on my sister’s bill," she said.
In 1945, Desmond refused to give up her seat in a whites-only section of a movie theatre in New Glasgow, N.S., and was forcibly removed and jailed overnight. She then launched the first known legal challenge against racial segregation brought forth by a black woman in Canada.
"At Desmond's trial, no one admitted that race was behind her arrest. She was convicted of failing to pay one cent in tax. Still, her courage in standing up to discrimination inspired many others," reads a plaque in the museum.
Desmond died in 1965. The province of Nova Scotia apologized to her posthumously, 45 years later.
Nadia Thompson, chairwoman of the Black History Month celebration committee in Winnipeg, spoke at the museum about what Desmond means to her.
"It is a powerful motivator to see others who look like you succeed," she said.
Thompson also mentioned other black women from Canada who have made major strides and deserve credit.
Anne C. Cools was the first black person in the Canadian Senate as of 1984, and she was the first black female senator in North America, Thompson said. Rosemary Brown was the first black woman elected to a provincial legislature in British Columbia in 1972, serving 14 years as an MLA.
Toward the end of her speech, Thompson used a quote from Brown.
"'To be black and female in a society, which is both racist and sexist, is to be in the unique position of having nowhere to go but up.' It’s pretty powerful, if you think about it," Brown said. "So often we see examples of this in history, which is why we must encourage those around us to speak up and stand out when we are moved to do so.
"Because what we may see as a small gesture can have a ripple effect and be felt many years after you and I are gone, as Viola Desmond’s story has."
Desmond replaces Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada's first prime minister, on the $10 note. She was nominated and voted for by Canadians in a 2016 Bank of Canada campaign.
The CMHR is also featured prominently on the new $10 bill — and is the first museum to be pictured on a Canadian banknote, according to museum officials. It replaces a scene featuring a passenger train moving through the Rockies.
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Updated on Thursday, March 8, 2018 at 11:52 AM CST: Edited
2:10 PM: Adds video
3:47 PM: Writethru