Viola Desmond and the struggle of Black Canadians

By Isaac Maulana
Edited by Ayo Gbadamosi

The story of Viola Desmond was a momentous occasion in the ongoing struggle for Black women and Black folk in Canada. In her attempt to live a “normal” life, she was met with violence and resistance. According to the Government of Canada, Viola Desmond was jailed and fined for sitting in a ‘whites only’ section of the Roseland Theatre in Halifax in 1946. Her arrest was followed by an unsuccessful appeal to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia which would inspire civil rights movements across Canada. As a Black person, I am eternally grateful for her sacrifice, her bravery, and her fight against discrimination in Canada.

As Black History Month comes to an end, it is important to remember that honouring Black champions like Viola Desmond should transcend the month of February. It is our duty to continuously honour her and others alike in our collective memory, continuously share their stories, and continue their fight however we can until all Black people and all People of Colour in Canada can exist free from judgement, prejudice and bigotry.

In the words of Dr Joy James, “I found that there is no consensus of the way forward in terms of a political path. Does love save us, redeem us, and comfort us? I would say yes to all the above. Is love sufficient to free us? Honestly, I have no idea. Particularly, Ms. Angelou saying that her ancestors claim that it is their submission that allowed us to live this long. You feel like that is a conflicted gift. But, I am grateful that to the extent that they did, I live, and our children will live.”

I am grateful for Viola Desmond. Without plights like hers, I would not be here in Canada today. I will continue to honour her after Black History Month, and I hope her sacrifice will be repaid.

This April 13-22, Gateway Theatre will be presenting Hey Viola!, a musical exploration of Viola Desmond’s powerful story performed by Black award-winning blues and jazz singer and actor Krystle Dos Santos. Join us to learn more about Viola’s story and to support the Black Canadians continuing the fight in her honour.

Picture of Viola Desmond standing inside her beauty salon, courtesy of Wanda and Joe Robson Collection, Beaton Institute, Cape Breton University/16-87-30227.