Viola Desmond

Nova Scotia Archives

Viola Desmond

Viola Irene Desmond (née Davis, 1914-1965) was an African Nova Scotian businesswoman who, in New Glasgow's Roseland Theatre in 1946, challenged the province's systemic racial discrimination of the time in a way that marked a watershed moment for civil rights in Canada. Desmond later became an activist and mentor, while continuing her entrepreneurial career and community contributions.

This resource includes the surviving legal documents from the Magistrate’s Court and the Supreme Court; representative provincial newspaper coverage from the time; and a short background article by Henry Bishop, well-known Nova Scotian multi-disciplinary artist, musician, author, and the descendant of Black Loyalists and migrant workers from Barbados.

Those interested in learning more about Desmond's spirited confrontation of the status quo may be interested in Constance Backhouse's "Racial Segregation in Canadian Legal History: Viola Desmond's Challenge, Nova Scotia, 1946," in the Dalhousie Law Journal, 17: 2 (fall 1994).


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