Desmond was found guilty of tax evasion after she challenged racial segregation at the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow on Nov. 8, 1946. She was given a posthumous apology by Nova Scotia in 2010.

Desmond was found guilty of tax evasion after she challenged racial segregation at the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow on Nov. 8, 1946. She was given a posthumous apology by Nova Scotia in 2010.

Nova Scotia symbolically repays Viola Desmond’s $26 fine from 1946 theatre protest

An official cheque for the original $26 fine will be displayed at the Nova Scotia legislature

Viola Desmond’s $26 fine and court costs have been repaid by Nova Scotia, nearly 75 years after the civil rights pioneer was arrested for refusing to leave the whites only section of a movie theatre.

Desmond’s interest-adjusted fine is estimated at $368.29 but the province topped it up to $1,000 and presented the money to her sister Wanda Robson during a virtual ceremony on Wednesday.

The idea to repay the fine originated from Varishini Deochand, a student from Vaughan, Ont., who asked the province to consider the symbolic reimbursement after learning about Desmond’s story.

“Upon realizing that this fine was not repaid I wrote a letter to the Honourable (Premier) Stephen McNeil addressing something meagre, yet paramount in fostering a more just society,” Deochand said during the event. “I strongly hold that one should not pay a fine for a crime they did not commit.”

Desmond was found guilty of tax evasion after she challenged racial segregation at the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow on Nov. 8, 1946. She was given a posthumous apology and pardon by Nova Scotia in 2010.

McNeil thanked Deochand and said her request was “insightful” and “driven by a desire for social justice.”

READ MORE: O’Ree’s hockey stick reminds Trudeau daily of the work needed to combat racism

The premier described Desmond’s story as one of aspiration, activism and determination, adding that she was a trailblazer who continues to influence people. “We must continue to acknowledge and recognize the incredible people of African descent like Viola, who have made a significant contribution to our society,” McNeil said.

He said an official cheque for the original $26 fine will be displayed at the Nova Scotia legislature along with Desmond’s pardon certificate.

Desmond’s act of courage came nearly a decade before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Alabama.

A resident of Halifax, the beautician and entrepreneur who sold her own line of cosmetics was headed to Sydney, N.S., when her car broke down. Stranded in New Glasgow overnight, Desmond decided to go to the local theatre to watch a movie.

The Roseland Theatre, however, was segregated at that time, with black patrons relegated to the balcony while floor seating was reserved for whites.

The short-sighted Desmond sat in the floor section in order to see properly and when she refused to leave she was dragged from the theatre by police. She was arrested and left in jail for 12 hours before being fined.

Desmond died in 1965 and although her story received little attention for several decades, her stature has grown through a number of tributes in recent years. She has been featured on a stamp, a Halifax harbour ferry is named after her, while a Toronto park and streets in Montreal and New Glasgow bear her name.

READ MORE: BC Place to light up with special display for Black History Month

In 2017, she was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame and in November 2018, a new $10 bill bearing her likeness was put into circulation. Desmond became the first black person — and the first non-Royal woman — on a regularly circulating Canadian banknote.

Robson said the growing recognition of her sister has been “overwhelming.”

“Particularly the letter to the premier from Varishini,” she said. “She sounds like the future and there will be thousands behind her raising the torch of justice and freedom.”

Black History Month

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

SASCU is looking to celebrate its 75th anniversary with a legacy project, in the same way the Shuswap credit union marked its 60th by commissioning the apple sculpture at its downtown location. That artwork includes 14 apples honouring SASCU’s founding families. (Lachlan Labere-Salmon Arm Observer)
Shuswap credit union to mark 75th anniversary with legacy project

SASCU will be looking for input from arts community, city

Interior Health reported 33 new COVID-19 cases on March 5. (Black Press Files)
Interior Health reports 33 new COVID-19 cases on March 5

Over 300,000 vaccine doses have been administered provincewide.

Dave Wallace and David Askew with Askew’s Foods present a $500 cheque on March 2 to Chrissy Deye and Monica Kriese with the volunteer-run Food With Friends free lunch program. (Contributed)
Salmon Arm Food with Friends free lunch program receives support

Funds from Askew’s to help volunteers keep meals coming four days per week

Okanagan College, Vernon campus. (Brendan Shykora - Vernon Morning Star)
Student housing coming to Vernon, Salmon Arm

Province announces $66M for new student beds for Okanagan College campuses

The James C Richardson Pipe Band marches in a Remembrance Day parade on Nov. 11, 2019 in Chilliwack. Wednesday, March 10 is International Bagpipe Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of March 7 to 13

International Bagpipe Day, Wash Your Nose Day and Kidney Day are all coming up this week

C.E. “Ned” Bentley owned a garage on Shaughnessy Avenue, now Lakeshore Drive in Summerland. Bentley later went on to serve on Summerland’s council and was recognized with the Good Citizen Award in 1939. (Summerland Museum photo)
Former Summerland reeve once ran garage

C.E. “Ned” Bentley was a prominent figure in Summerland’s past.

Kevin Haughton is the founder/technologist of Courtenay-based Clearflo Solutions. Scott Stanfield photo
Islander aims Clearflo clean drinking water system at Canada’s remote communities

Entrepreneur $300,000 mobile system can produce 50,000 litres of water in a day, via solar energy

Malawian police guard AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines after the shipment arrived in Lilongwe, Malawi, Friday March 5, 2021. Canada is expecting its first shipments of AstraZeneca vaccine next week. (Associated Press/Thoko Chikondi)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 cases climb to 634 Friday, four more deaths

Currently 255 people in hospital, 66 in intensive care

A crashed helicopter is seen near Mt. Gardner on Bowen Island on Friday March 5, 2021. Two people were taken to hospital in serious but stable condition after the crash. (Irene Paulus/contributed)
2 people in serious condition after helicopter goes down on Bowen Island

Unclear how many passengers aboard and unclear where the helicopter was going

Surrey Pretrial in Newton. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)
B.C. transgender inmate to get human rights hearing after being held in mostly male jail

B.C. Human Rights Tribunal member Amber Prince on March 3 dismissed the pretrial’s application to have Makayla Sandve’s complaint dismissed

Supporters rally outside court as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church is in court to appeal bail conditions, after he was arrested for holding day services in violation of COVID-19 rules, in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
‘Law remains valid:’ Pastor accused of violating health orders to remain in jail

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing the pastor

Two shepherds on Queest Mountain pose for a photo in front of the A-Frame tent they camp out in while tending their flock in the year 1930. 
(Sicamous and District Historical Society photo)
Shuswap History in photos: Shepherds’ Camp

A pair of 1930s shepherds pose for a photo in the camp they called home while tending a flock.

Paramjit Bogarh, connected to the murder of his wife in Vernon 35 years ago, has been relerased on full parole, one year after he was sentenced to five years in prison for accessory after the fact. (Contributed)
Full parole for ex-Okanagan man who helped wife’s alleged killer escape

Paramjit Bogarh pleaded guilty to accessory to murder after helping brother flee Canada

Most Read