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NEWS: $10 bill hits Bathurst (Winter 2019)

March 14th, 2019 · No Comments

Bank note features activist Viola Desmond

George Randolph exchanges a $10 bill for the newly-designed bank-note featuring civil rights icon Viola Desmond at the ADBCC commemorative breakfast. AHMED HAGAR/GLEANER NEWS

By Ahmed Hagar

People of all ages and backgrounds celebrated the life of businesswoman and civil rights icon Viola Desmond at a commemorative breakfast hosted by A Different Booklist Cultural Centre (ADBCC) at 777 Bathurst St. shortly after the bill came into circulation in November.

A Different Booklist is one of the black-owned businesses in the community known as “Blackhurst,” found in and around Bathurst and Bloor. The community’s roots go back to the 1860s, and black-owned businesses and media have been critical in serving the black community there. Blackhurst was also the home of the city’s first black city councillor and acting mayor, William Peyton Hubbard, elected in 1894.

The only black person currently serving on Toronto’s city council, Michael Thompson from Scarborough Centre (Ward 21), came to the bookshop and cultural centre to celebrate Viola Desmond with the Blackhurst community.

In a short speech, he said that Canada’s new $10 bill, which features Desmond’s image on one side, shows how much has changed in our society.

“We will all succeed, not individually, but together as a people, not as blacks, not as whites but as a people,” he said. “When we use this currency it will remind us … that we will never accept a situation where we belittle someone based on the colour of their skin.”

Thompson spoke about the importance of telling history through “the symbols of our society” and how Viola Desmond’s image on the bill provides “a sense of empowerment” to young Canadians.

“And moving forward, our children can see their reflection in the history and growth of our city, our province, and our country,” he added.

Representatives from the Bank of Canada unveiled the new bill in Halifax on International Women’s Day last March. Aside from being the first piece of Canadian currency to feature a black woman, the new $10 bill is also notable for the fact that it is the first vertically aligned banknote.

Viola Desmond founded the Desmond School of Beauty to tutor black women when other beauty schools discriminated against them. In 1946 she made her mark on history when she refused to sit in the balcony section of a movie theatre and was subsequently dragged out by the police. She was charged and jailed for failing to pay the full price of the ticket when in fact the theatre’s cashier had refused to sell her a regularly priced ticket — because black people were expected to keep away from the main seating area.

Nova Scotia’s first black lieutenant-governor, Mayann Francis, granted Desmond a posthumous pardon in 2010, 64 years after her arrest.

The ADBCC showcased old photos of Desmond alongside court documents relating to her case and books about her life story. 

George Randolph, a board member of the ADBCC, says the inclusion of Desmond is “incredible for African Canadian history.”

“There are many firsts to this: the first black woman, the first vertical bill, respect to the Indigenous people and the hope and perseverance it gives to our young people,” he said. “It is just an extraordinary accomplishment.”

Melissa Brereton, an analyst from the Bank of Canada, attended the event and spoke about her involvement with the focus group that helped bring Desmond’s image onto the new bill.

“It has been a passionate project for me, I am just happy to be involved,” she said. “Being a black woman myself, it is so inspiring and it means a lot.”

While everyone in attendance at the celebration seemed to agree on the symbolic importance of Desmond’s photo on the banknote, Councillor Thompson insisted that the change represented by her image needs to be firmly reflected by government policy.

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