Meet Civil Rights Pioneer Viola Desmond, the New Face on the Canadian $10 Bill

Viola Desmond hand-coloured portrait, 16-80-30220, ca. 1945. Wanda and Joe Robson Collection, Sydney NS. Beaton Institute, Cape Breton University // Used With Permission
Viola Desmond hand-coloured portrait, 16-80-30220, ca. 1945. Wanda and Joe Robson Collection, Sydney NS. Beaton Institute, Cape Breton University // Used With Permission

In 1946, Viola Desmond, a 32-year-old entrepreneur from Halifax, was on a business trip when her car broke down in the small community of New Glasgow in Nova Scotia, Canada. With some extra time to kill while she waited for the repairs, Desmond decided to go see a movie, and headed to the Roseland Theater at the corner of Forbes and Provost Streets. She requested and paid for a seat to see a noir called The Dark Mirror on the theater's main floor—but because she was black, the cashier gave her a ticket and the appropriate change for the balcony section.

Unaware that she had been given a balcony ticket, Desmond proceeded into the main-floor seating area, where the ticket-taker told her she'd have to go upstairs. She assumed that there had been a mistake, but when she went back to the cashier to ask again for a main-floor ticket, the cashier reportedly replied, "I'm sorry, but I'm not permitted to sell downstairs tickets to you people."

Desmond was used to finding a way when racially motivated roadblocks were thrown at her. When she was denied entrance to Halifax beauty schools because of her skin color, she trained in Montreal, New York, and New Jersey, then created her own beauty studio and school in Halifax, drawing black women from across Canada's east coast. She also created her own line of black beauty care products. So, being a woman used to making her own path, once Desmond realized she was being discriminated against, she courageously strode back inside the theater to take a seat on the main floor.

She was just settling in to enjoy the movie when she was confronted by the theater manager. Desmond stood her ground, but the police soon arrived and forcibly removed her from the theater, injuring her hip and knee in the process.

She spent the night in jail, though not for disobeying segregation laws; there weren't any. Instead, officials got her on a trumped-up claim of defrauding the Government of Nova Scotia. They alleged that she had failed to pay one cent in amusement tax—that is, the difference in the amount of tax charged on a main floor and balcony seat. Under a 1915 Canadian licensing statute, those who entered a theater without paying the proper amount of amusement tax could be arrested without a warrant and fined.

Realizing that the ludicrous charge was a way to punish her for refusing to bow to the unofficial segregation rules of the day, Desmond challenged the decision all the way to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court. Unfortunately, she lost the trial, and the charges stood.

Desmond died in 1965 at age 50. She may not have gotten justice during her lifetime, but her actions were a galvanizing force for the civil rights movement in Canada. And almost 65 years after the theater incident, the Canadian government tried to set things right. In 2010, a cultural studies professor from Nova Scotia worked with Desmond's sister, Wanda Robson, to secure a posthumous pardon from Nova Scotia's lieutenant governor as well as an apology from the province's premier. (The pair teamed up after Wanda, then 73, took Professor Graham Reynolds's class at Cape Breton University. As Reynolds was telling a story about Viola, Wanda piped up and said "Hey, that's my sister.")

Since then, the civil rights pioneer has been on a Canada Post stamp and had a passenger ferry named for her, while plans for streets bearing her name are in the works in Montreal and Halifax. She has also been honored with the creation of the Viola Desmond Chair of Social Justice at Cape Breton University.

And soon, Canadians will be seeing a lot more of her. In late 2016, she was chosen as the first Canadian woman to appear on a $10 bill. The design for the bill was unveiled on March 8, 2018, and features a violet-hued portrait of Viola on the front, plus images of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and an excerpt from the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms on the back. The bill also includes an eagle feather, which the Bank of Canada says represents "the ongoing journey toward recognizing rights and freedoms for Indigenous Peoples in Canada." The banknote will enter into circulation later in 2018.

Speaking of Viola at the unveiling, Finance Minister Bill Morneau said, "Her story serves as inspiration to all Canadians and acts as a powerful reminder of how one person’s actions can help trigger change across generations."

As for Viola's sister Wanda, she said at the unveiling that seeing the new bill had left her speechless. "This is amazing, unique, and our family will go down in history. Imagine that."

Images of Canada's new $10 bill featuring Viola Desmond
Bank of Canada

10,000 People Gathered at Stonehenge to Welcome the Summer Solstice

Finnbarr Webster, Getty Images
Finnbarr Webster, Getty Images

There are plenty of reasons to welcome the start of summer. Today, people visiting Stonehenge took that celebration to a whole new level.

The BBC reported that an estimated 10,000 people made the pilgrimage to the 5000-year-old site to partake in summer solstice festivities. "Stonehenge was built to align with the Sun, and to Neolithic people, the skies were arguably as important as the surrounding landscape," Susan Greaney, a senior historian at English Heritage, said in a statement. "At solstice we remember the changing daylight hours, but the changing seasons, the cycles of the Moon, and movements of the Sun are likely to have underpinned many practical spiritual aspects of Neolithic life."

These spiritual aspects are just one of the many fascinating facts about the summer solstice; the day is an extremely old calendar event recognized by ancient cultures across the globe. They include the Druids and other pagans, whose tradition of observing the solstice at Stonehenge has long been upheld by modern revelers.

Scientifically speaking, Stonehenge is an optimal viewing place for the solstice due to its structure. According to TIME, the site’s architects appeared to have kept both the summer and winter solstices in mind during its construction, as the positions of the stones are specifically tuned to complement the sky on both occasions.

The solstices were sacred to the pagans, whose modern-day followers continue to honor their rituals. Pagans in particular refer to the day as Litha, and mark it with activities such as meditation, fire rites, and outdoor yoga.

“What you’re celebrating on a mystical level is that you’re looking at light at its strongest," Frank Somers, a member of the Amesbury and Stonehenge Druids, said in 2014. "It represents things like the triumph of the king, the power of light over darkness, and just life—life at its fullest."

Those who were unable to make the journey can head over to the Stonehenge Skyscape project's website, where English Heritage’s interactive live feed fully captured the experience.

Tourists Are Picking Apart Britain's Oldest Tree

Paul Hermans, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

The Fortingall Yew in the Fortingall churchyard in Perthshire, Scotland has seen a lot. Since it started growing at least 2000 years ago, it's been present for the Roman settlement of Scotland, the shift from paganism to Christianity, and the country's induction into the United Kingdom. But after standing for millennia, the ancient tree is facing its greatest threat yet. Tourists are removing twigs and branches from the tree to take home as souvenirs, and the tree is under so much stress that it's spontaneously changing sexes, Atlas Obscura reports.

Because of how the tree grows, it's hard to date the Fortingall Yew precisely. It comprises several separate trunks that have hollowed out over the years, making it easier for the tree to support itself in its old age. Based on historical measurements and 19th-century ring counts, the yew has been around for at least two millennia, but it could date back as far as 5000 years. That makes it the oldest tree in Britain and one of the oldest living things in Europe.

That impressive title means the tree gets a lot of visitors, not all of whom are concerned with extending its lifespan even longer. A stone and iron wall built in the Victorian era encloses the tree, but that hasn't stopped people from climbing over it to break off pieces or leave behind keepsakes like beads and ribbons.

As the abuse adds up, the tree has responded in concerning ways. It sprouted red berries this spring, a sign that the tree is transitioning to a different sex for the first time in its life. Yew trees are either male or female, and sex changes among the species are incredibly rare and misunderstood. Some botanists believe it's a reaction to stress. The change may be a survival mechanism intended to increase the specimen's chances of reproducing.

Scientists aren't sure why this particular yew, which was formerly male, sprouted berries on its upper branches, an exclusively female characteristic, but they've collected the berries to study them. The seeds from the berries will be preserved as part of a project to protect the genetic diversity of yew trees across the globe.

In the mean time, caretakers of the Fortingall Yew are imploring visitors to be respectful of the tree and keep their hands to themselves.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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