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John Young says Canadians will soon carry a human rights story with them wherever they go, as the new Viola Desmond $10 bill goes into circulation Monday.
“There’s a large number of Canadians, especially once you get past Halifax, Nova Scotia, who will be discovering the story or learning more about it,” Young, the president and CEO of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, said in a phone interview Saturday.
Young reflected on when a Grade 8 class came to visit the Winnipeg museum about three years ago and they passed Desmond’s exhibit.
“One of the students looked to me and said, ‘Is that Rosa Parks?’ ” he said.
“Rosa Parks was nine years after Viola Desmond. I think confusing her with Rosa Parks is kind of like calling Wayne Gretzky Edmonton’s Mario Lemieux.”
On Nov. 8, 1946, Desmond was dragged out of the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow by police after she refused to give up her seat in the whites-only section. The Halifax native was arrested, jailed for 12 hours and fined.
Desmond received a posthumous apology and pardon from the province 63 years later.
Parks was arrested on Dec. 1, 1955, after she refused to go to the back of the bus in Montgomery, Ala.
“So, learning the stories, we understand not only that there was racial segregation in Canada, but it links our present to our past,” said Young.
“Expanding that collective memory or public memory is an inclusive way that cultivates the values that we want to hold dear as Canadians.”
Some have reached out with their own stories of racial segregation in Canada after visiting the Winnipeg museum, Young said.
“The Viola Desmond story becomes sort of a magnet, you could say, for other stories to be known, as well, not just in Nova Scotia but elsewhere in Canada, as well.
“We look forward to helping as many Canadians as possible not only understand the Viola Desmond story but understand the responsibilities and obligations we have as Canadians that come from telling and talking about that story.”
The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is to launch the new bill in Winnipeg on Monday. Desmond’s sister, Wanda Robson, is to be in attendance.