Today, the Honourable Sean Fraser, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship and Member of Parliament for Central Nova, commemorated the national historic significance of Viola Desmond with a plaque unveiling ceremony at the former Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. The announcement was made on behalf of the Honourable Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada.
Viola Desmond, an African Canadian business woman, brought national attention to the African-Nova Scotian community’s struggle for equal rights after being violently arrested for sitting in the “whites only” section of a New Glasgow movie theatre.
In November 1946, while travelling on business from Halifax to Sydney, Nova Scotia, car trouble forced Desmond to stop overnight in New Glasgow, where she decided to see a film at the Roseland Theatre. Unaware of the theatre’s segregated seating rules, she attempted to purchase a ticket in the floor section – the theatre’s “whites only” section. When she was informed that the theatre would only sell her a balcony ticket, she took a seat on the floor anyway. Police were called on-site and forcibly removed Desmond. She was arrested, held in jail overnight, and then charged, tried, and convicted with tax evasion. That charge, based on the one cent difference in tax between floor and balcony seats, was the only possible legal justification for her imprisonment. Her appeal to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia was unsuccessful but attracted nation-wide attention to the African-Nova Scotian community’s struggle for equal rights.
Despite the outcome of her legal case, Desmond’s act of resistance against anti-Black racism has come to represent a turning point in the struggle for equal rights in Canada.