Canada’s new $10 banknote featuring Viola Desmond unveiled

Canada’s new $10 banknote featuring Black rights activist and Nova Scotia businesswoman Viola Desmond was unveiled today in Halifax by Finance Minister Bill Morneau, Bank of Canada Governor Stephen S. Poloz and other special guests.

Once issued into circulation in late 2018, it will mark the first time a Canadian woman is portrayed on a regularly circulating Bank of Canada note. The forthcoming $10 note will be the first vertically oriented banknote issued in Canada. This will allow for a more prominent image of Desmond and differentiates this new $10 note from the current polymer notes.

“Two years ago today—on International Women’s Day—Prime Minister Trudeau and I announced that the time had come for a Canadian woman to be represented on Canada’s bank notes. Since then, thanks in large part through her sister Wanda, more and more Canadians have come to know Viola Desmond’s remarkable personal story of courage and dignity. Her story serves as inspiration to all Canadians and acts as a powerful reminder of how one person’s actions can help trigger change across generations,” said Morneau.

“As we strive for equality across our economy and in every facet of our country, we hope this constant reminder of Viola’s story will help inspire a new generation of women, men, girls and boys to fight for what they believe, take their place and create a better future for themselves and all Canadians.”

The forthcoming $10 note will be the first vertically oriented banknote issued in Canada.


The back of the $10 note features images and symbols that represent Canada’s ongoing pursuit of rights and freedoms. It features the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR)—the first museum in the world solely dedicated to the evolution, celebration and future of human rights. Also depicted on the note are an eagle feather—representing the ongoing journey toward recognizing rights and freedoms for Indigenous Peoples in Canada—and an excerpt from the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Enhanced security features have also been added to the new $10 note to help keep the notes safe from counterfeiting yet easy to use. The note will be printed on polymer, which was introduced to Canadian bank notes in 2011. Polymer bank notes last longer than paper bank notes. This vertical bank note is the same size, has the same functionality as existing Canadian bank notes and should not change how people handle cash.

“Our bank notes are designed not only to be a secure and durable means of payment, but also to be works of art that tell the stories of Canada. This new $10 fits that bill,” said Poloz. “I’m immensely proud of all the innovation that went into this note—from the public consultation process that encouraged a national conversation on the important contributions of women in Canadian history, to the note’s beautiful vertical design, to its cutting-edge security features. Canadians can use this note with both confidence and pride.”

The announcement was originally made by the Bank of Canada in December 2016 at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que., where officials were joined by one of Desmond’s sisters, Wanda Robson.

“It’s a big day to have a woman on a banknote, but it’s an especially big day to have your big sister on a banknote. Our family is extremely proud and honoured,” said Robson, at the Dec. 8, 2016 event.


The CMHR in Winnipeg, which has a permanent exhibit dedicated to Viola Desmond, is also holding an event. Bank of Canada representatives will be available on-site to answer questions and display sample banknotes.

The events were preceded by a Facebook Live town hall with students hosted by the Morneau and Celina Caesar-Chavannes, parliamentary secretary to the minister of international development. The live stream was available at


The note’s reverse design represents Canada’s ongoing pursuit of rights and freedoms. The images include the Canadian Museum of Human Rights as well as an excerpt from the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Desmond, an icon of the human rights and freedoms movement in Canada, was chosen by Morneau (in accordance with the Bank of Canada Act) from a short list of five iconic Canadian women. Choosing Desmond was the final step in the campaign to determine which iconic Canadian woman would appear on Canada’s new $10 banknote. Last spring, an open call for nominations launched by the Bank of Canada yielded more than 26,300 submissions from across Canada. More than 460 eligible candidates were narrowed down to a list of five candidates by an independent advisory council of eminent Canadian leaders from several fields.

The other four iconic Canadian women on the short list were:

  • Emily Pauline Johnson (1861-1913);
  • Elizabeth MacGill (1905-1980);
  • Fanny Rosenfeld (1905-1969); and
  • Idola Saint-Jean (1880-1945).


Desmond is perhaps best known for defiantly refusing to leave a “whites-only” area of a movie theatre in 1946; she was subsequently jailed, convicted and fined. The ensuing court case was the first known legal challenge against racial segregation brought forth by a Black woman in Canada.

From her early days as a school teacher, Desmond’s ambition was to start her own hairdressing business; however, there were many barriers, the first of which was finding training. Because beauty schools in Halifax restricted Black women from admission, she travelled to Montreal, New York and New Jersey for various courses. She eventually received a diploma from the renowned Apex College of Beauty Culture and Hairdressing in Atlantic City, N.J.

In 1937, after travelling back to Halifax, Desmond established Vi’s Studio of Beauty Culture, which became a gathering place for women in the community. Within a few years, she established the Desmond School of Beauty Culture and attracted students from across Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Quebec. She also manufactured and marketed Vi’s Beauty Products, which generated orders from across Nova Scotia.


On Nov. 8, 1946, Desmond was on a business trip to Sydney, N.S., when her car broke down in New Glasgow. While waiting for repairs, she decided to see a movie at the nearby Roseland Theatre.Unaware of the theatre’s policy of restricting Black people to the upper balcony, Desmond handed the cashier money and asked for “one down please.” The cashier handed her a balcony ticket, but when she entered the theatre, an usher informed her she would need to go upstairs.

Thinking it was a mistake, Desmond returned to the cashier and asked to exchange her ticket.

The cashier refused, stating, “I’m not permitted to sell downstairs tickets to you people.”

Realizing she was being denied because of her race, Desmond courageously walked back inside and took a seat downstairs; however, the theatre manager confronted her and eventually called the police. Desmond was forcibly ejected, arrested, charged and convicted for failure to pay the theatre’s one cent tax, which was required for the downstairs seat.

Desmond was unsuccessful in her efforts to reverse her criminal conviction; however, her story was a milestone human rights case in Canada. Because the case was framed as tax evasion, the real issue of racism was veiled by procedural technicalities. If Desmond had not taken further action, the surviving trial records would’ve left no clue about the true significance of the case: Desmond was denied the downstairs ticket because of her race.


On April 15, 2010, Desmond received a posthumous free pardon from the government of Nova Scotia. The pardon was granted by then-Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia Mayann Francis, who was the first Black Nova Scotian and only the second Black person in Canada to hold this office. The pardon was accompanied by a public declaration and apology from then-Premier Darrell Dexter, who said no charges should’ve been laid and added Desmond’s conviction was a miscarriage of justice.

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