Canada Presents Human Rights Activist Viola Desmond as the Face of the New $10 Bill

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Release of new bank note followed by Fall Economic Statement intended to boost Canada's economic competitiveness

With the launch of a new $10 bill on November 19, Canada has ushered in an era of firsts: the first Black woman on a Canadian banknote, and the first Canadian banknote with a vertical, not horizontal, orientation. The bill features social justice icon Viola Desmond (1914–1965) who was refused entrance to a whites-only section of a Nova Scotia movie theatre in 1946. Her arrest and subsequent resistance to the charges filed against her spurred a larger movement towards human rights and racial equality in Canada.

Now, each time this new vertical ten-dollar bill changes hands, it will remind us of our continued pursuit of human rights and social justice in Canada.

New vertical note “tells a story" about events shaping the country

As the new note was launched, Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz commented that “bank notes are not only a secure means of payment that Canadians can use with confidence. They also tell the stories that have shaped our country. Now, each time this new vertical ten-dollar bill changes hands, it will remind us of our continued pursuit of human rights and social justice in Canada."

The bill, to be gradually released into circulation over the coming months, replaces the former Canada 150 commemorative note and the Frontiers series note, which features Sir John A. Macdonald, to become the standard Canadian $10 bank note. Viola Desmond was chosen as the face of the note following a public consultation by the Bank of Canada which invited Canadians to nominate a Canadian woman for consideration.

Introduction of new bill followed by federal Fall Economic Statement

The launch of the new bill was followed by the federal government's Fall Economic Statement on November 21, designed to help Canada compete with the United States for investment dollars. Both the Fall Economic Statement and the new bill arrive as the Canadian dollar struggles as a result of faltering oil prices.

Looking forward, analysts such as Goldman Sachs are predicting that the Bank of Canada will continue to increase interest rates in the coming months, perhaps at a rate faster than the U.S. Federal Reserve—which may produce support for the Canadian dollar.

Innovative vertical design a first in Canada

With the vertical design, Canada joins other countries including Switzerland, Bermuda, Venezuela and Argentina with non-horizontal bills.

The use of a vertical design, some suggest, is more intuitive than the conventional horizontal orientation—and may be better suited to how people actually use paper currency. “You tend to hold a wallet or purse vertically when searching for notes. The majority of people hand over notes vertically when making purchases," graphic designer Andy Butler commented in 2010. “All machines accept notes vertically. Therefore, a vertical note makes more sense."

In addition to the feature portrait of Desmond, the new note includes elements such as an eagle feather, symbolizing efforts towards recognizing rights and freedoms for Aboriginal peoples in Canada, and a passage from the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. With the release of the new bill, Canada is symbolizing both how far Canadians have come, as well as the continuing importance of focusing on human rights and racial equality in Canada.

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