Women from most countries would be hard-pressed to see themselves in their nation’s paper currency. Yes, several countries have made it happen: Australia, Sweden, New Zealand, Mexico, Argentina, and the Philippines all have at least one banknote featuring a woman who has defined its history. But on International Women’s Day, one woman didn’t just get to see a female figure on a new bill—she saw her own sister.
On Thursday, Canada introduced its new $10 bill, showcasing Black Nova Scotian and civil rights activist Viola Desmond. In 1946, at the age of 32, Desmond went to see a movie at the Roseland Theatre in Nova Scotia. Desmond, who had a white mother and Black father, sat in the “whites only” section of the theater instead of the balcony.
After refusing to give up her seat, policed dragged her out and jailed her for “defrauding the province of a one-penny tax”—the difference between a ticket for the front of house and the balcony. After being released on a $20 fine and $6 in court costs, Desmond appealed her conviction but lost. The Bank of Canada said hers was the first known legal challenge against racial segregation to be led by a Black woman in the country. Now, 72 years later, Desmond has become the first Black person and the first non-royal woman to be on a regularly-circulated Canada bill.
Wanda Robson, seeing her sister’s $10 bill for the first time, gasped, remarking that the artist beautifully captured every detail of her sister, saying, “It’s as if she’s in this room.”
“One woman’s actions can really make a difference,” Robson, 91, said in the video of her sneak preview, shared by the Bank of Canada.
In 1954, Nova Scotia ended segregation, a move partially driven by Desmond’s case. She died in 1965, but received Canada’s first-ever posthumous apology and pardon in 2010.
“I’m numb with joy,” Robson said at the time of her sister’s pardon. “She’s just one of many of us who have suffered. And when I say suffered, I don’t mean that you just couldn’t do anything anymore. But it was a momentary sting of racism and then you pick yourself up, you dust yourself off and get on with life.”
Watch the full video of Robson seeing her sister on Canada’s $10 for the first time: