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A ‘noteable’ day for Queen’s and Canada

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science Barbara Crow and Professor Jonathan Rose were members of an expert panel that selected Viola Desmond to adorn the new $10 bill.

The new $10 bill, featuring the image of Viola Desmond, entered circulation on Monday, Nov. 19, marking the completion of a project that involved the work of two Queen’s faculty members.

Desmond is the first Canadian woman to be featured on a regularly circulating banknote. She is best known for her refusal to accept racial segregation in a Nova Scotia movie theatre in 1946. She was also an entrepreneur and civil rights activist and over the years, her defiance has resounded with Canadians and was an inspiration for racial equality.

Barbara Crow, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science, and Jonathan Rose, a professor in the Department of Political Studies, were members of an expert panel in the selection process. Both say this note marks a turning point in Canada’s narrative.

Front and back of $10 bill, featuring Viola Desmond - Bank of Canada photo]
The front of he new $10 bill features an image of Viola Desmond, while the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is on the back. (Bank of Canada) 

“A currency is a public expression of national identity so it’s only appropriate that citizens should have an important role in deciding who should be on it,” Dr. Rose says.

Dr. Crow adds that the appearance of a woman, and importantly a woman of color, on Canada’s $10 bill will have a profound effect on Canadians as a people.

“What I think is incredible about the choice is that all of us can stand up to injustice, and she did. Every single Canadian can stand up,” she says. “The other women (who were considered), they had lots of expertise, deep expertise, in something that not all of us can attain but all of us can stand up to injustice.”

Both Dr. Crow and Dr. Rose say the process was an excellent exercise in altering Canada’s conception of itself, involving wide public consultation, for which Dr. Rose praised Governor of the Bank of Canada Stephen Poloz (Artsci'78). Dr. Rose says the civic engagement around which woman should be on Canada’s new banknote set a precedent for how meaningful engagement should happen, especially when considering such an important part of Canada’s national identity.

“Of all the projects I have been involved with, this was probably the most exciting and really I felt privileged to be part of it, so it’s nice that Queen’s has had such an important stake in it,” he says.

As a feminist and gender studies scholar, Dr. Crow says that having the conversation about women, and their centrality in Canadian history, spill into workplaces, coffee shops, and schools, is essential to understanding how important standing up to injustice is, something we should all aspire to and can do.

Desmond’s sister, Wanda Robson, was the first to make a purchase with the iconic bill in Winnipeg at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, also featured on the new note.

Both Dr. Crow and Dr. Rose say they are excited to see their research contributions touching the hands of Canadians, and look forward to joining Robson very soon in spending their first ‘Desy.’

To learn more about Viola Desmond and the new features of the $10 bill, visit the Bank of Canada website.