It's Viola's Way or the highway; New Glasgow honours civil rights pioneer
Published Friday, July 6, 2018 9:58PM ADT
The gathering call before Friday’s ceremony, was played by umoja drummers, inviting people to downtown New Glasgow where they were about to honour Viola Desmond.
“It speaks to how much growth the black community has had,” says Delroy Usherwood. “Not just here in Nova Scotia and in New Glasgow, but across Canada.”
In 1946, Viola Desmond was arrested at the Roseland Theatre for refusing to leave the whites-only section.
She died in 1965, at the age of fifty, long before she was granted a posthumous pardon in 2010.
Her face will soon be featured on the ten-dollar bill and Friday, the town where she challenged Canada’s racial segregation laws on Nov. 8, 1946, renamed a street in her honour. The street next to the Roseland Theatre is now called Viola's Way.
Desmond ended up spending a night in jail in New Glasgow, too.
“I'm not blaming the town,” said Wanda Robson, Desmond’s sister. “This is sort of an atonement for what happened to her.”
Nancy Dicks is New Glasgow’s mayor and says what happened to Desmond in 1946 “would have happened anywhere.”
“I don't look at it as a negative,” she said. “I look that if change comes from something like this, that makes our world a better place, then it's not something you need to be ashamed of.”
Robson was unable to attend the street-naming ceremony, which took place on her sister's birthday.
It was Robson who came up with the new street name.
“I think of Frank Sinatra,” Robson said. “I did it my way. I did it my way. Viola did it her way. So that's why I thought Viola's Way would be just perfect.”
While Robson picked the new name, it was Angela Bowden with the town's race relations committee who helped pick the street to be renamed.
“I'm hoping it will serve as a visual reminder when you walk past Viola's Way, that with courage and strength and determination and fight, that you can make change,” said Bowden.
Friday’s celebration featured speeches and spirituals all marking a day that touched hearts and a community.
When asked if she ever thought a day like this would ever happen, Robson replied:
“I never thought it would, dear. No, never. But it's wonderful.”
Robson says that when the family started their efforts for Viola, they were hoping for a small plaque, somewhere near the Roseland Theatre.
The events that have happened since then, like the pardon, the ten-dollar bill and the street have gone beyond anything the family could have hoped for.
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Dan MacIntosh.