Nova Scotia Archives

Viola Irene Desmond

2015 Honouree, Nova Scotia Heritage Day

Desmond - 201501078

Nova Scotia's first Heritage Day public holiday, on 16 February 2015, recognizes and celebrates Viola Irene Desmond (née Davis, 1914-1965), an African Nova Scotian businesswoman who challenged the province's systemic racial discrimination of the time in an incident which began at the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow in 1946, and ended in the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia the following year.

The Nova Scotia Archives is pleased to present here, in digitized form, copies of 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. Visitors 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).

Nova Scotians will celebrate Nova Scotia Heritage Day for the first time in 2015. The new statutory holiday, provided for by The February Holiday Act (Cap. 35, 2013), will take place on the third Monday of each February, beginning this year.

A 'February Holiday Naming Campaign' was held in schools across the province during 2014. It supplied both the name for the day, and a list of twelve significant contributions to Nova Scotia, to be remembered and acclaimed in the early years of the holiday. Speaking then, Tony Ince, Minister of NS Communities, Culture and Heritage, observed that "For years to come, Nova Scotia Heritage Day will recognize many important contributions to our history and culture, and Nova Scotians of all ages will learn more about what makes our province what it is today."