In 1946, entrepreneur Viola Desmond refused to leave the Roseland Theatre’s whites-only section and was wrongfully convicted of a tax violation used to enforce segregation. Desmond worked as a beautician and mentored young Black women in Nova Scotia through her Desmond School of Beauty Culture.
Desmond was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada on July 6, 1914, to James Albert Davis and Gwendolin Irene (Johnson) Davis. Her father grew up in a black middle-class family and worked as a stevedore before becoming a well-known barber. Desmond’s mother was the white minister’s daughter. Interracial marriage was common in Halifax during the twentieth century, and her parents were well-liked members of the local Black community.
Davis left on a business trip to New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, on November 8, 1946. She had car trouble while traveling and had to have her vehicle repaired. She decided to watch a movie at the local Roseland Theater while she waited for her car. The theater had its own segregated rules at the time: the main floor was for white patrons, and the balcony was for black patrons. Although Canada did not have formal segregation laws, individual provinces were able to establish and enforce their own unwritten policies.
Desmond went to the main floor, unaware of the segregation policy, but was quickly directed to the balcony by the manager. When Desmond refused, the manager called the cops. She was later ejected from the theater by police officers, injuring her hip. Desmond appeared before the local Magistrate the next morning, and she was convicted and fined $20.
When word of her situation reached Halifax, the African Canadian community raised funds to hire legal counsel for Desmond in order for her verdict to be overturned. Her case was handled by members of the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Colored People. They were eventually defeated and never challenged the court’s decision again. Nova Scotia eventually repealed its segregation laws in 1954.