Thursday, December 8, 2016

Viola Desmond

Viola Desmond’s ambition was to set up a hairdressing business of her own. The first hurdle was training. Beauty schools in Halifax, Canada restricted Black women from admission, so she travelled to Montreal, New York and New Jersey to pursue various courses, eventually receiving a diploma from the renowned Apex College of Beauty Culture and Hairdressing in Atlantic City.

In 1937, Desmond set up Vi’s Studio of Beauty Culture in Halifax, which became a gathering place for women in the community. But her vision didn’t end there. Within a few years, she established the Desmond School of Beauty Culture, which drew students from across the country. Another venture was manufacturing and marketing Vi’s Beauty Products. She made positive inroads as both an entrepreneur and a role model in her community and was an inspiration to her clients and students alike.

But Viola Desmond was no ordinary beautician; Viola Desmond was a civil rights pioneer.

Nine years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white person on a bus, Viola Desmond defied the colour barrier at a Canadian movie house.

On Nov. 8, 1946, trying to see a movie in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia’s Roseland Theatre, she was told that, because she was black, she would only be allowed to sit in the balcony.

Refusing to bow to segregation, 32-year-old Desmond took a seat on the main floor of the theatre, normally reserved for whites. When confronted by the theatre manager, she refused to move.

Desmond was arrested, jailed, and fined.

In the months following the incident, Desmond fought to have her charge reversed. Her case was taken as high as the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, and, ultimately, her appeal was dismissed in 1947.

Desmond died in 1965 at age 50.

In 2010, Desmond was granted a posthumous pardon and a public apology by the government.

In 2012, Canada Post issued a postage stamp bearing her image…

Viola Desmond Stamp
© Canada Post 2012

On December 8, 2016, it was announced that Desmond had beaten out four other finalists to be the new face of the Canadian $10 bill. Desmond will be the first woman who is not the Queen to have her face featured on Canadian currency.

We salute you, Viola Desmond, and welcome you with honours into The Hair Hall of Fame.


  1. Lordy. Who knew that Canada had such segregation in its history? Jx

    1. Sadly, segregation existed in Canada too. The last segregated Black school in the Province of Ontario was closed in 1965. The last segregated school in Canada, which was in Nova Scotia, closed in 1983.

      For a list of the most discriminatory laws in Canadian history, click here

  2. now THAT is a great ending to a not so great story!

    (i hope we're related)

    1. As do I! With a name like Viola you can expect great things!

  3. That really was a stunning ending. And a stunning Canadian as well.