Nine years before American Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat in the coloured section to a White passenger, Halifax beauty shop owner Viola Desmond declined to sit in a New Glasgow theatre balcony section designated for Blacks. Instead, she sat on the ground floor reserved for White patrons.
She had gone to the Roseland theatre to pass time while her car was being repaired.
After being forcibly removed from the theatre and arrested, Desmond was found guilty of not paying the one cent difference in tax on the balcony ticket from the main floor theatre ticket and fined $20 and $6 in theatre court costs.
When efforts to overturn the conviction at higher levels of court failed, Desmond closed the business, moved to Montreal and enrolled in business college. She eventually settled in New York where she died in 1965 at age 51.
Four years ago, The Nova Scotia government officially apologized and pardoned Desmond. It also shelved a proposal to name November 8 for the civil rights icon after family members opposed to using that date.
The family is however in agreement with the province’s selection of Desmond’s name for a new holiday to be launched in February next year.
The holiday will be celebrated on the third Monday of February, offering Nova Scotians six statutory holidays per year. However, the holiday’s name will change annually based on submissions from students suggesting significant people, places and events that have helped shape Nova Scotia.
Each year, students from the primary to Grade 12 level will submit a general name for the holiday that instils pride in being Nova Scotian and a second name that honours a significant cultural or historical contribution to the province.
“There are so many remarkable people, places and events that have made Nova Scotia what it is today,” Minister of Labour & Advanced Education Kelly Regan said. “And each year on the holiday, we’ll recognize a different contribution to Nova Scotia’s diverse history and culture and we’ll all learn more about ourselves in the process…The children will select who to honour for the next 12 years, and we chose that number because a school career is 13 years long so at some point in a child’s career they will have a chance to vote on who or what will be honoured. We want to make sure that we have some cultural and geographical diversity in the group, so that’s why we thought it would be better to do it all at once.”
The names will be announced before the end of the school year.
Tony Ince, Nova Scotia’s Minister of Communities, Culture, Heritage and African Nova Scotian, said the ball is now in the student’s court.
“I hope you’re ready and you’re thinking of a time in history, a place and perhaps a person that is worthy of recognition,” he said. “So I encourage you to take the time to submit an idea for consideration and be part of something Nova Scotians will look forward to each year.”
Each class can submit one entry per category at novascotia.ca/februaryholiday until March 28. A panel will review the entries and recommend names to Regan.