Cur­rents

Vi­ola Des­mond’s ad­di­tion to Cana­dian cur­rency a wel­come change.

Canada's History - - CONTENTS - By Yves Y. Pel­letier Yves Y. Pel­letier, Ph.D., is the au­thor of The Old Chief­tain’s New Im­age: Shap­ing the Pub­lic Mem­ory of Sir John A. Macdon­ald, in On­tario and Que­bec, 1891–1967.

Where art is a fam­ily af­fair. Cel­e­brat­ing a half cen­tury of the Canada Games. A woman of note. Man­i­toba town’s novel name. Flight of a life­time at Vimy Ridge.

Canada be­gan a new and exciting chapter of its his­tory with the re­cent se­lec­tion of Vi­ola Des­mond as the first Cana­dian woman to have her solo por­trait on the front of a ban­knote. While most tweets and com­ments have fo­cused on her gen­der, this news is even more mean­ing­ful: It sig­nals the end of Canada fo­cus­ing ex­clu­sively on com­mem­o­rat­ing old white men as na­tional sym­bols.

For many decades, Canada has been a world leader in cel­e­brat­ing mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism, di­ver­sity, and in­clu­sion. Yet the sym­bols of who we are as a na­tion have been slow to adapt to our chang­ing de­mo­graphic re­al­i­ties. Cana­di­ans may not see our na­tional cur­rency as an el­e­ment of com­mem­o­ra­tion, but it is the most com­mon way Cana­di­ans in­ter­act with their na­tional his­tory. For ex­am­ple, we are re­minded ev­ery time we pull out a five-dol­lar bill that Sir Wil­frid Lau­rier was our first fran­co­phone prime min­is­ter.

The in­clu­sion of Des­mond’s im­age on the 2018 print­ing of the ten-dol­lar bill will be an ac­knowl­edge­ment that Canada cel­e­brates di­ver­sity. Es­pe­cially sig­nif­i­cant is the fact that she is re­plac­ing Canada’s first prime min­is­ter, Sir John A. Macdon­ald.

The no­tion of Macdon­ald as a na­tional uni­fy­ing sym­bol has al­ways been chal­leng­ing for Cana­di­ans.The Lib­eral gov­ern­ments of Lau­rier and William Lyon Macken­zie King were not keen to com­mem­o­rate the mem­ory of Macdon­ald, a Con­ser­va­tive, due to his involvement in scan­dals and overt acts of par­ti­san­ship dur­ing his long ten­ure as prime min­is­ter. Mac­don- ald’s res­i­den­tial school legacy and the ap­proval of the 1885 hang­ing of Métis leader Louis Riel en­sured that sig­nif­i­cant portions of Canada’s pop­u­la­tion could never rally around Macdon­ald as a na­tional sym­bol. Even Macdon­ald’s self-de­clared great­est sup­porter — former Prime Min­is­ter John Diefen­baker — was wary of el­e­vat­ing the mem­ory of Macdon­ald, rec­og­niz­ing that his Québec cau­cus would not sup­port such ac­tions.

The move away from com­mem­o­rat­ing old white men has hap­pened else­where. In South Africa, the rand used to bear the like­ness of Jan van Riebeeck, the sev­en­teenth-cen­tury Dutch ex­plorer who ar­rived in Cape Town. Van Riebeeck’s im­age was used for more than fifty years to high­light white rule over the black pop­u­la­tion. Af­ter the fall of apartheid, the old white ex­plorer was re­placed with a por­trait of Nel­son Man­dela, a sym­bol of the new South Africa.

Macdon­ald’s ad­mir­ers should not worry — his im­age is not dis­ap­pear­ing com­pletely. Rather, Macdon­ald and Lau­rier will even­tu­ally bump Sir Robert Bor­den (on the one-hun­dred­dol­lar bill) and King (on the fifty-dol­lar bill).

Mean­while, Vi­ola Des­mond’s ad­di­tion to the ten-dol­lar bill will serve as a re­minder to all that women and vis­i­ble mi­nori­ties have played a cru­cial role in the de­vel­op­ment of our coun­try.

From left: Bank of Canada Gover­nor Stephen S. Poloz, then Sta­tus of Women Min­is­ter Patty Ha­jdu, Wanda Robson, sis­ter of Vi­ola Des­mond, and Fi­nance Min­is­ter Bill Morneau re­veal the im­age of Vi­ola Des­mond, who will be the first Cana­dian woman on the front of a ban­knote.

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