VIDEO: Viola Desmond honoured with Canadian Walk of Fame star

Her 91-year-old sister Wanda says “she let nothing stand in her way”

Wanda Robson says her sister Viola Desmond “preached by doing,” and wanted young people to pursue their dreams regardless of what stood in their way.

Robson beamed as a Canada’s Walk of Fame star was unveiled in Halifax Friday afternoon in honour of the civil rights pioneer — the latest in a series of accolades Desmond has posthumously received in recent years.

The 91-year-old Robson told a crowd gathered at the Halifax Ferry Terminal that her sister fought to overcome the many obstacles in her path to pursue her career: training as a beautician in Montreal, Atlantic City and New York when she was unable to study in Halifax because of the colour of her skin.

“She let nothing stand in her way,” said Robson. ”It must’ve been very frustrating. I myself would’ve probably given up … but we are of a different nature, Viola and I.”

Desmond is most famous for her refusal to leave the whites-only section of a Nova Scotia movie theatre on Nov. 8, 1946 — nearly a decade before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Alabama.

She was dragged out of the theatre by police, arrested, thrown in jail for 12 hours, and fined. It would take 63 years for Nova Scotia to issue Desmond, who died in 1965, a posthumous apology and pardon.

READ MORE: VIDEO – Canada unveils new $10 bill featuring black businesswoman

While much has changed in the decades since her sister was dragged out of the theatre, Robson told The Canadian Press that education continues to be key in the pursuit of equality.

“I’m learning myself, every day,” she said.

“Racism can be so deep-seated, that sometimes the person themself doesn’t know they’re racist, doesn’t realize that they have to be educated.”

Robson, who attended her grandson’s graduation ceremony this week, said she has high hopes that future generations will continue the work of her sister and other civil rights activists.

“We need the younger generation to get up and confront, not in a manner of aggression, but in a manner of imparting knowledge, educating the people, that we are all one,” she said.

Canada’s Walk of Fame CEO Jeffrey Latimer told the crowd that each inductee represents the characteristics embodied in Canada’s identity: confidence, humility, perseverance, hopefulness, and courageousness.

“All of these qualities make Canada such an incredible nation, and all of these qualities lived and thrived inside the soul of Viola Desmond,” he said.

Canada’s Walk of Fame has inducted 173 Canadians since it began 20 years ago, including Desmond, who was inducted in Toronto last year.

The commemorative star will soon be mounted aboard the harbour ferry named for Desmond in 2016.

“Years from now when families arrive on this ferry, parents will be able to tell their children about the powerful and brave contributions of Viola Desmond: to civil rights, and human rights, around the world,” said Halifax Mayor Mike Savage.

Her story went largely untold for a half-century, but in recent years Desmond has also been featured on a stamp, and there are plans for a park in Toronto and streets in Montreal and Halifax to bear her name.

In March, a new $10 bill featuring Desmond was unveiled by Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz.

She is the first black person — and the first non-royal woman — on a regularly circulating Canadian bank note.

As well, Desmond is featured in a recent children’s book by Chelsea Clinton called “She Persisted Around the World,” which tells the stories of 13 women who shaped history across the globe.

Meanwhile, Robson, who has a signed copy of the book, said she’s thrilled about her sister’s growing recognition.

“I want to say to somebody: ‘pinch me,’” she said.

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Spring fishery closures mulled for south coast

Fewer fish are returning to rivers and more conservation needed, say feds

Bungy jump naked in support of mental health programs

Registration open for annual fundraiser for BC Schizophrenia Society

Four weather extremes in just six months a cause for concern

Global warming contributing to the full gamut of conditions

Column: Snow reveals the character of a community

For every internet complainer there were two more willing to help a neighbour

Car fire destroys vehicle in Chemainus

Traffic rerouted for a short time at the Henry Road roundabout

National Energy Board approves Trans Mountain pipeline again

Next step includes cabinet voting on the controversial expansion

B.C. Special Olympics officially underway in Vernon

Athlete’s Oath: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

Vancouver Aquarium wants your help to name a baby killer whale

The public helped name Springer’s first calf, Spirit, and is being asked to help with the second

Guards protest firing of fellow officers charged with assault at B.C. prison

Corrections officers demonstrated in Maple Ridge on Friday afternoon

Skier dies at Revelstoke Mountain Resort

Cause of death for young man has not been released

R. Kelly charged with 10 counts of sexual abuse

R&B star has been accused of sexual misconduct involving women and underage girls for years

More sailings coming to 10 BC Ferries’ routes

Transportation Minister Claire Trevena said the sailings were originally cut in 2014

Cryptocurrency exchange CEO who suddenly died leaves Kelowna house in will

Gerald Cotten, holding the keys to money tied up in his virtual currency exchange, died in December.

Regulator’s report, coming today, unlikely to settle Trans Mountain pipeline battle

The Trans Mountain pipeline will remain a controversial topic both in the political ring and out

Most Read