Halifax ferry named after Viola Desmond

Nova Scotia’s civil rights icon won nearly a third of the votes in ferry naming contest

Viola Desmond (July 6, 1914 - February 7, 1965)
Viola Desmond (July 6, 1914 – Feb. 7, 1965).   Michelle Pressé

Halifax’s newest harbour ferry will be named after Nova Scotia civil rights heroine Viola Desmond.

The announcement came from the Halifax Regional Municipality on Thursday.

In the fall of 2015, Halifax residents submitted approximately 200 names for the city’s ferry naming contest.

In February, the list was whittled down to five prominent Nova Scotians. The contest was open for two weeks.

Desmond received just under one-third of the votes (6,692 out of 19,239).

The four other nominees on the shortlist included:

  • Vincent Coleman, a heroic train dispatcher from the Halifax Explosion
  • Private John Curwin, a Mount Uniacke soldier who died in the line of duty in Afghanistan
  • Major Gavin Rainnie, a Halifax officer who died at Juno Beach in the Second World War
  • Ronald Wallace, Halifax’s longest-serving mayor

“Seventy years since Viola’s visit to that movie theatre, her commitment to civil rights continues to educate and inspire, highlighting how far we have come and reminding us that as individuals and as a community we must continue to advance equality for all,” Mayor Mike Savage said in a news release.

Desmond was born in Halifax in 1914 and worked as a teacher before opening a barbershop and beauty salon with her husband, Jack, on Gottingen Street.

On Nov. 8, 1946, Desmond was on a business trip and stopped in New Glasgow after her car broke down. In order to pass the time, she went to see a movie at the Roseland Theatre. She unknowingly sat in a whites-only section of the theatre and was asked by the theatre manager to move.

When she refused to do so, she was dragged out and thrown in jail for the night.

Desmond’s case is considered one of the most publicized accounts of racial discrimination in Canadian history and helped put a legal end to racial segregation in Nova Scotia.

Her name is now going to Transport Canada for consideration and final approval.

This is the last of three harbour ferries that will replace the ones currently operating. The first began operating in 2014 and was named after Christopher Stannix, a Cole Harbour soldier who was killed in Afghanistan. The second ferry began operating in 2015 and was named after Craig Blake, the first Canadian sailor who was killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan.

Desmond’s ferry is scheduled to begin operating this summer.