Mixed feelings as COVID clip snowbirds wings
Have you heard about the SaltWire News app?
Daily fall forecasts and weather facts from Cindy Day
SaltWire's cartoonists bring heart and humour to the news.
SaltWire Selects: Stories you don't want to miss
What you need to know about COVID-19: October 20, 2020
A small group of beauticians from the Halifax area is tracing the literal trail embarked upon by Canadian civil rights icon Viola Desmond, as she set out on the trip that would change her life forever.
Four members of the Black Beauty Culture Association, based in the Halifax area, were in Cape Breton this week. It was the destination that Desmond had set out for from Halifax in 1946, when her car broke down in New Glasgow and she decided to see a movie as it was being fixed.
Desmond refused to leave a whites-only area of the Roseland Theatre when ordered to do so, was arrested and was later convicted of a minor tax violation used to enforce segregation.
She was posthumously pardoned and has been the recipient of numerous honours, including having her image on the Canadian $10 bill.
Among the stops the quartet made during their time in Cape Breton included visits to the Beaton Institute to view its Desmond collection, St. Philip’s African Orthodox Church in Whitney Pier and the North Sydney home of Desmond’s sister, Wanda Robson.
Given the lasting impact of Desmond’s action on that day in New Glasgow, her legacy as an entrepreneur in the beauty industry may be overlooked by some. She was on a work-related trip to Cape Breton when the incident at the theatre took place.
“For the last 30 years, we’ve been celebrating black hair in Nova Scotia, but we wanted to add to the story,” Black Beauty Culture Association co-founder Samantha Dixon Slawter said in an interview Monday. “We don’t know the story of black hair in Cape Breton.”
She noted they have been able to collect a great deal of information and stories about those who met the beauty needs of the black community in Cape Breton.
“There was one lady that I heard about who actually studied in the (United) States but came back to Cape Breton and served the community by doing hair,” Dixon Slawter said. “We’re adding to the story of black hair in Nova Scotia.”
The issue goes beyond superficial concerns and has social justice implications, she added, because no one was meeting the needs of the black community so members had to stand up and do it themselves. She noted the beauty industry also provided an important source of meaningful employment.
In Desmond’s case, after she obtained her training, she returned to Nova Scotia and shared her knowledge with others.
“After her death … there was nobody, other than the people that she would have trained and they were doing hair from their homes, a lot of them,” Dixon Slawter said. “It needs to be talked about and we need to bring more attention to the needs of the black community.”
Graham Reynolds, the Viola Desmond chair at Cape Breton University, met with the group as they toured the Beaton Institute.
“This is an incredible opportunity for us to meet this incredible group of black beauticians that are really trying to expand the story and really make black beauty in Nova Scotia something that is part of the industry and talked about,” he said.
Dixon Slawter noted Desmond made sure that many different communities were represented among her students so that they could take their newly developed skills back home.
“The Desmond School of Beauty and Culture was the first of its kind in Canada,” Reynolds added. “She had students from all around the Atlantic region and even one from Quebec … the program that she was offering was really to create a profession for black women.”
Earlier this year, at the Black Hair-etage in Nova Scotia event held at the Black Cultural Centre in Cherry Brook, the Crown of Beauty award was given posthumously to Desmond. While in Cape Breton, the association was to present Robson with the award in person.
That award will be renamed in Desmond’s honour next year.
ABOUT VIOLA DESMOND
• Lived: 1914-1965
• Hometown: Halifax
• Occupation: Beautician who developed her own line of products and opened her own school.
• What Happened: In New Glasgow in 1946, Desmond refused to leave a whites-only area of the Roseland Theatre and was convicted of a minor tax violation used to enforce segregation.
• She was posthumously pardoned.
• She is called “Canada’s Rosa Parks,” although the theatre incident occurred nine years before Parks refused to give up her seat on a city bus to a white passenger in the United States.
- Past Times: They stood up for their rights – for sitting down
- DeMONT: Bills released in Viola Desmond’s former neighbourhood
- Viola Desmond $10 bill will spread story of human rights, says museum CEO
- New Glasgow woman remembers Viola Desmond for work ethic and encouragement
- Third annual Viola Desmond Heritage Concert coming to New Glasgow Sept. 21
- Viola Desmond’s image to appear on new $10 bill