Viola Desmond exhibition opens at Bank of Canada Museum

The Bank of Canada Museum is inviting Canadians of all ages to visit the new exhibition “A Noteworthy Woman,” which depicts the life of Viola Desmond, an icon of the human rights and social justice movement in Canada and the first Canadian woman to appear on a regular banknote.

The exhibition, which is open to the public until May 12, 2019, features rare and never-before-displayed artifacts from Desmond’s life. The exhibition also explores the imagery on the newly circulating $10 banknote.

“Soon, many Canadians will carry a Viola Desmond note with them in their wallets. But the lessons of her life must continue to be told,” said Senior Deputy Governor Carolyn A. Wilkins at an event marking the launch of the new exhibition this November.

“That’s why I’m glad that, through this exhibition, people will be able to learn more about her history and Canada’s history.”

Seats from the Roseland Theatre circa 1910-40 are on loan from the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia.


Desmond, a successful black Nova Scotia businesswoman, defiantly refused to leave a whites-only area of New Glasgow’s Roseland Theatre in 1946 and was subsequently jailed, convicted and fined.

Her case is one of the first known legal challenges against racial segregation brought forth by a black woman in Canada.

Highlights of the exhibition include the following:

  • seats from the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, where Desmond took her historic stand against injustice;
  • Desmond’s free pardon, granted by the government of Nova Scotia in 2010;
  • her notebook, in which she jotted down business tips, recipes for beauty products and price lists; and
  • a compact of sepia face powder from her line of cosmetics.


The new note “recognizes the impact of this trailblazing woman, whose strength, courage and conviction in the face of racism brought her to the forefront of equal rights in Canada,” said Minister of Status of Women Maryam Monsef.

“This bill, and the Canadian Museum of Human Rights, which is featured on its back, ensures we keep these stories top of mind. We will always stand up for human rights at home and abroad, and on behalf of our government, I am proud to open this important exhibition that shares the story behind the design of the note, and the choice of Viola Desmond for this well-deserved honour.”

The Bank of Canada Museum is located at 30 Bank St., in Ottawa, and is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

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