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Students at Stratford Elementary School learn about Viola Desmond on Human Rights Day

Stratford Elementary School students Sophie Gallant, left, and Ella Chapman hold the new Viola Desmond $10 bill.
Stratford Elementary School students Sophie Gallant, left, and Ella Chapman hold the new Viola Desmond $10 bill. - Terrence McEachern

STRATFORD, P.E.I.- Students at Stratford Elementary School honoured Viola Desmond during Human Rights Day on Monday and got a special phone call from Desmond’s sister, Wanda Robson, during an assembly.

The phone call from Robson was played from the speakers in the gymnasium on what was the 70th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

Robson told the students that she was surprised on Nov. 8, 1946, to hear that her sister, Viola, had been arrested in New Glasgow, N.S., for refusing to accept that she couldn’t sit in the lower theatre area because of her race. She also said she was “over the moon” to hear that her sister stood up for her rights.

The 500 students in attendance had the chance to see the new $10 bill, launched on Nov. 19, that honours Robson’s sister. The front of the bill has a portrait of Desmond while the back has an image of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg and an eagle feather to represent Indigenous rights.


“As this note begins to circulate all across Canada, every time it changes hands, there is an opportunity to tell Viola’s story and what she did and inspire others to do the same.”

-Monique Leblanc


Prior to the assembly, students created and displays their own versions of what the $10 bill should look like. Several students chose Terry Fox as their focus while others, including Ella Chapman, 11, a Grade 6 student, chose astronaut Chris Hadfield. She was also part of a music group that performed for the school.

“I really like to sing. And, it’s just cool to spread a message.”

Monique Leblanc, regional director (currency) with the Bank of Canada in Halifax, attended the assembly. She explained that in 2016, the governor of the Bank of Canada and finance minister decided that a new bill should be created with a female as the focus who wasn’t a member of the monarchy. After a call for nominations, the list was narrowed, and the minister chose Desmond to appear on the bill.

Leblanc said Desmond was an inspiration and a civil rights icon.

“As this note begins to circulate all across Canada, every time it changes hands, there is an opportunity to tell Viola’s story and what she did and inspire others to do the same.”


Ella Chapman, right, shows her version of the new $10 bill with Chris Hatfield to fellow Stratford Elementary School student Sophie Gallant -Terrence McEachern
Ella Chapman, right, shows her version of the new $10 bill with Chris Hatfield to fellow Stratford Elementary School student Sophie Gallant -Terrence McEachern

 


Brenda Picard, executive director of the P.E.I. Human Rights Commission, was also at the assembly and said it was amazing to hear some of the students talk about issues like respect for diversity and discrimination.

“This is just a no-brainer for children, and yet some adults still have to really think it through,” she said.

The P.E.I. Human Rights Commission and the Town of Stratford also hosted an event later in the day at town hall, which included an opening prayer from Margaret Labobe and Charlotte Morris of the Lennox Island First Nation, as well as other guest speakers.

“We do have a pretty good country,” said Picard. “It’s not perfect, but we’re moving in the right direction. And, P.E.I. is becoming a much more diverse community.”

terrence.mceachern@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/terry_mcn

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