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Wanda Robson, sister of Viola Desmond, holds the new $10 bank note featuring Desmond during a press conference in Halifax on March 8, 2018.

Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press

Canada’s new $10 bill featuring Nova Scotia human-rights icon Viola Desmond has been named banknote of the year.

The bill, which also features a map of Halifax’s historic north end as well as the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, was honoured in a vote by the International Bank Note Society.

The society says in a news release that the Desmond bill was a favourite of its voting membership right from the start.

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The purple polymer bill was the first vertically oriented banknote issued in Canada.

Ms. Desmond is the first black person – and the first non-royal woman – on a regularly circulating Canadian banknote.

The bill marks a growing recognition of Ms. Desmond’s refusal to leave the whites-only section of a Nova Scotia movie theatre on Nov. 8, 1946 – nearly a decade before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Alabama – and the seminal role it played in Canada’s civil-rights movement.

Ms. Desmond, a beautician and entrepreneur from north end Halifax who sold her own line of cosmetics, was headed to Sydney, N.S., when her car broke down. Stuck in New Glasgow overnight, she decided to watch a movie at the Roseland Theatre.

The segregated theatre relegated black patrons to the balcony, while floor seating was reserved for whites. Ms. Desmond, who was short-sighted and could not see properly from the back, sat in the floor section and refused to leave.

She was dragged out of the theatre by police, arrested, thrown in jail for 12 hours and fined.

It would take 63 years for Nova Scotia to issue Ms. Desmond, who died in 1965, a posthumous apology and pardon.

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Ms. Desmond’s story went largely untold for a half-century, but in recent years she has been featured on a stamp, and her name graces a Halifax harbour ferry. A Toronto park and streets in Montreal and New Glasgow bear her name, and she was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2017.

The banknote society also honoured notes from Switzerland, Norway, Russia and Solomon Islands.

The society says 150 new banknotes were released in 2018, but only 10 per cent of them featured sufficiently new designs to be nominated.

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