After being largely in the shadows for decades, Viola Desmond’s name has been launched once again into the spotlight.

The civil rights activist was jailed for sitting in the “white” section of a segregated theatre 70 years ago.

Now, the newest vessel in Halifax Transit’s fleet carries her name.

“Isn’t that wonderful,” says Viola’s sister, Wanda Robson. “The Viola Desmond Ferry. I never ever thought.”

The vessel will shuttle passengers between Halifax and Dartmouth.

“In the past, before we did the naming contests, the ferries had fairly basic names, ‘Halifax’, ‘Dartmouth’, ‘Woodside’” says Halifax Transit Director Dave Reage. “That was a missed opportunity to honour amazing people.”

This is the third ferry naming contest Halifax Transit has held, and so far it’s the most popular. More than 190,000 people casted votes and Viola Desmond won by a landslide. She had just under a third of the vote.

“I’m going to cry, I can’t help it. It’s just so wonderful,” says Robson.

“She’s proud of this, so it’s kind of emotional. It’s exciting,” says Mayor Mike Savage.

Today’s excitement is a far cry from life in Nova Scotia in 1946, the year Viola Desmond was arrested for sitting in the “white” section of a segregated theatre in New Glasgow.

“She was convicted of tax evasion of one cent,” says former Nova Scotia Lt.-Gov. Mayann Francis.

Francis says she feels a connection with Desmond, whose actions 70 years ago may have cut her own career short, but paved the way for a better future for other African Nova Scotians.

“Who would think that all these years later, I would be connected with her to give her the royal prerogative, a free pardon,” says Francis. “This is the very first in Canada ever, and it’s me, a black woman, giving this freedom to another black woman.”

While the new ferry will honour her legacy, Mayor Mike Savage says society should be looking forward to help today’s “Viola Desmond’s.”

“I do think we need to make sure that we’re giving today’s crusaders for human rights as much attention as we gave crusaders 60, 50, 40 years ago,” says Mayor Savage.

With files from CTV Atlantic’s Kelly Linehan