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Black History Month – Viola Desmond

viola desmondViola Desmond


Viola Desmond (July 6, 1914 – February 7, 1965) was a Nova Scotian business woman who challenged racial discrimination at a movie theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia in 1946.

She had trained as a teacher but soon joined her husband, Jack Desmond, in a combined barbershop and hairdressing salon. While expanding her business across the province, Viola went to New Glasgow in 1946.

Viola went into a movie theatre and took a seat on the main floor, unaware that tickets sold to Black Canadians in this town were for the balcony and the main floor was reserved exclusively for White customers. Theatre staff demanded that she go to the balcony, but she refused, since she could see better from the main floor.

The police were called straightaway and she was dragged out, which injured her hip. She was charged and held overnight in jail and was not advised of her rights. She was discriminatorily convicted of a minor tax violation used to enforce segregation.

Desmond appealed this decision to the Supreme Court, but they turned down her appeal. Her case is one of the most publicized incidents of racial discrimination in Canadian history.