Carved penny tribute to Viola Desmond

Carla Allen
Published on March 2, 2014

The penny has been decommissioned, eventually to be out of circulation, but in 1946, the small sum was the root of a bigger evil for Viola Desmond.

Carving artist Bruce Jacquard has created a symbolic tribute to the injustice. The giant wooden penny features a profile of Desmond, pertinent dates and two pennies embedded in the back.

“The whole controversy was over a penny. The dates I put on are those when  she was charged and the date she was absolved,” he said.

Desmond was a black woman who trained as a teacher but eventually joined her husband in a combined barbershop and hairdressing salon.

While visiting New Glasgow in 1946 she refused to sit in the Roseland Theatre’s balcony, which was designated for blacks.

After insisting on sitting on the ground floor she was removed from the theatre and thrown in jail overnight without counsel.

She was convicted, tried and eventually found guilty of not paying the one-cent difference in tax between the tickets. She fought the charge but lost.

She died in 1965 at the age of 50.

In 2010, Mayann Francis, the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia at that time, granted Desmond a posthumous pardon, the first such to be granted in Canada. The government of Nova Scotia also apologized.

Nova Scotia’s February holiday will honour Desmond in 2015, the provincial government declared.

Jacquard says it took him about a week to carve the shallow relief on the round of cedar from a picture on the Internet.

“I’m going to give it to the people in Birchtown. I thought it might be a nice gesture. They lost their museum and they’re rebuilding,” he said.

A fire intentionally set in 2006 destroyed the heritage building at the centre of Canada’s oldest black community, Birchtown. Work on the new $7 million Black Loyalist Heritage Centre Museum will begin this spring.

“They might need something to fill up the gaps. I hope they like it,” said Jacquard.