Comox connection to Viola Desmond

Great nephew of noted Canadian has local medical practice

  • Dec. 16, 2016 8:00 p.m.
Dr. Sterling Desmond has a practice in Comox. He is the great nephew of Viola Desmond

Dr. Sterling Desmond has a practice in Comox. He is the great nephew of Viola Desmond

Scott Stanfield

Record staff

There’s a local connection with the late Viola Desmond who, in 2018, will become the first Canadian woman to appear on the front of a Canadian bank note.

Doctor Sterling Desmond, who has a medical practice in Comox, is the great nephew of the woman who was jailed in 1946 for sitting in the whites-only section of a movie theatre in New Glasgow, N.S.

“I think it’s inspirational,” said Desmond, who grew up in Winnipeg with a caucasian mother and a black father. “It doesn’t matter what race or what culture you are. The message is basically about inspiration, it’s about courage, it’s about the ability of someone in hard circumstances of standing up, and trying to do what at that moment in time they perceive is the right thing to do. In many ways, that means to take a line, a border, and erase that line or border and say, ‘We’re all equal, irrespective of race.’

“You can leverage the cards you’re dealt, but trying to be successful and trying to reach to help people — to me, that’s what she was trying to do,” he added.

Viola — who died in 1965 — was a businesswoman and a beautician. She also ran a beauty school. As many as 15 women — who had been denied admission to whites-only training schools — graduated each year from her school.

Viola’s face will adorn the front of Canada’s $10 bill. Other women have appeared on Canadian currency, but the Queen is the only woman to have graced the front of a bank note.

“If you fast forwarded her to today, I think she’d be trying to look at a different platform, or trying to raise the level of consciousness to say, ‘Look, we can’t keep staying in the same pond, and doing the same thing over and over again’,” Desmond said. “All it’s doing is putting a new face on something else that has never systemically changed.”