Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau (far right) makes official announcement naming Viola Desmond as the first woman to grace a Canadian banknote.

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Black Civil Rights Leader Becomes First Canadian Woman To Grace Face Of Banknote

Viola Desmond, often described as Canada’s Rosa Parks for her 1946 decision to sit in a whites-only section of a Nova Scotia movie theatre, will be the first woman to be celebrated on the face of a Canadian banknote.

OTTAWA – Viola Desmond, often described as Canada’s Rosa Parks for her 1946 decision to sit in a whites-only section of a Nova Scotia movie theatre, will be the first woman to be celebrated on the face of a Canadian banknote.

Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau says Desmond will grace the $10 bill when the next series goes into circulation in 2018, reported  News 1130..

Desmond’s sister says it’s a big day to have a woman on a bank note, & a really big day to have her big sister on one

Others on the short list were poet Pauline Johnson, a poet who was the daughter of a Mohawk chief and an English woman and who is buried in Stanley Park. Elsie MacGill, the first woman in Canada to receive a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering. She was born in Vancouver.

Quebec suffragette Idola Saint-Jean and 1928 Olympic medallist Fanny Rosenfeld, a track and field athlete.

Famous Five activist Nellie McClung, the Alberta suffragette who fought in the 1920s for women to be legally recognized as persons in Canada, was for many Canadians the most obvious omission from the short list.

There were more than 26,000 submissions from the public, which was later whittled down to 461 eligible nominees who had Canadian citizenship and had been dead for at least 25 years.

Others who didn’t make the cut included “Anne of Green Gables” author Lucy Maud Montgomery, BC artist Emily Carr and Manitoba author Gabrielle Roy.

In a recent online survey, 27 per cent of respondents made McClung the No. 1 choice, with Quebec politician Therese Casgrain, MacGill, Montgomery, Carr and Desmond rounding out the top six choices.

The Bank of Canada’s independent advisory council said it was looking for nominees who overcame barriers, inspired others or left a lasting legacy. By every measure, Desmond fits that bill.

A businesswoman turned civil libertarian, Desmond built a business as a beautician and, through her beauty school, was a mentor to young black women in Nova Scotia.

It was in 1946 when she rejected racial discrimination by sitting in a whites-only section of a New Glasgow movie theatre. She was arrested and fined; her actions inspired later generations of black people in Nova Scotia and the rest of Canada.

The bank’s advisory council received more than 18,000 submissions during a public call for nominations earlier this year.

While it’s the first time a woman other than the Queen has been on the face of a Canadian banknote, the Famous Five suffragettes, along with Casgrain, were featured on the back side of a $50 bill unveiled in 2004.

The women were dropped from the bill in 2011 when a new polymer version was introduced.