Nova Scotia’s something-for-everyone holiday a cowardly copout

It began with a January phone call from a school principal, inviting Wanda and Joe Robson to travel from their home in Cape Breton to metro to attend a Feb. 17 unveiling of a portrait honouring Wanda’s sister, Viola Desmond.

Desmond — who was convicted for sitting in the whites-only section of a New Glasgow movie theatre in 1946, nine years before Rosa Park’s refusal to sit in the blacks-only section of a Montgomery, Alabama, bus launched the American civil rights movement — is one of Canada’s still-too-little-celebrated heroes.

Her now 87-year-old sister Wanda is among many who’ve campaigned to have a new February provincial holiday designated “Viola Desmond Day — A Day To Honour All Those Who Have Fought for Social Justice in Nova Scotia.” The Cape Breton Regional Municipality and town councils in New Glasgow and Shelburne have voiced their support .

No one told Wanda there was any connection between the portrait unveiling and plans to announce the holiday, not even when Heritage Minister Tony Ince called to tell Wanda how much he’d like to see her at the unveiling.

Wanda and Joe couldn’t go, They only found out what had happened — and then only part of it — last Monday when Wanda got a congratulatory call from Wendy Bergfeldt, the host of Sydney’s CBC radio afternoon show. Ince and Labour Minister Kelly Regan had announced the 2015 holiday would be named Viola Desmond Day. Wanda said she was “thrilled.”

“I said I was pleased,” Wanda says now. “I had to be pleased.”

But there was a catch. Only the first holiday will honour Desmond. “Each year,” Kelly told reporters, “we’ll celebrate a different contribution to Nova Scotia’s storied past and diverse culture.”

When she learned the full truth. Wanda felt “blindsided. I’m not happy.”


For starters, she believes — as do many — that a holiday in the middle of Black History Month should logically honour someone of African descent. And that the holiday’s name should more broadly recognize those who’ve “fought for social justice.”The new, rotating, something-for-everyone holiday will do neither.

It’s too bad. The new provincial government had the opportunity to at least try to be a shadow as courageous as Viola Desmond. It failed.

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