Wanda Robson

was a human rights activist, educator and writer. She was the youngest sister of Viola Desmond, Canada’s civil rights pioneer.

Wanda Robson’s Changing Perspective on Her Sister's Arrest


Wanda Robson reflects on her evolving view of her sister’s arrest and how her perspective has shifted over time.  

Wanda Robson: I thought when Viola was arrested, all I could hear and see was the word jail. I didn’t think, "What happened? And why?" All I could hear was she went to jail. People would say, "Your sister went to jail." And I thought, "Yes, yes, and don’t ask me. I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to talk about it." People like me should not exist. But I was young. I suppose that’s a feeble excuse. I was young. I should have been proud. But today I am so proud. Because growing up, I thought, "If you went to jail, you did something wrong." Well, we all know now that she did nothing wrong. It was a system, her colour that... She was colour-coded as they say. But... today, I look— I think of it, and in my mind, I can see Viola now. She would be so pleased, so happy and so pleased because of being able to go to our parents and talk to them about it and see how pleased they were. Yeah. She was definitely her mother and father’s daughter, definitely.

Preserving History: The Roseland Theatre . . .

1 min 45 s

Wanda Robson discusses the importance of museums as custodians of our history, and highlights the si...

Wanda Robson: They can tell us the actuality, the actuality of Viola sitting in those chairs. I mean, it’s nice to read about a story. "Oh, that’s great! She did that." But then, when you come to a place like the Museum of History or any place that has these objects that pertain to the incidents, that is more real than reading. You understand the truth is there but it solidates the actuality of that story. You see it with your eyes. It’s remarkable. This museum is remarkable. I’d like to see some more stuff myself. It’s so wonderful. But to have my sister, to have the chair that she actually sat in, that’s unreal. It’s real but it's unreal to think that it’s been saved, it’s been preserved... This is, you know, thank you, Museum of History. Thank you, thank you for what you’ve done for not only my family but everybody growing up can see, can actually see. I keep saying that because I’m seeing it myself. And I am saying, Thank you.

Learning at Any Age: Wanda Robson’s Journey Back . . .

1 min 50 s

Wanda Robson shares her inspiring story of returning to school at the age of 73.

Wanda Robson: I saw a little article in our paper, the Cape Breton Post saying that this professor was, Dr. Graham Reynolds, and he was giving a course on African-Canadian studies. And anybody that would like to come, even you know, to come, he was giving. So my husband, being a teacher, thought, "Oh, you’d like that. You always wanted to go to college. Why don’t you go and audit the course?" And I said, "Oh, I’m too old." I was 73. And he said, "No, never too old. Why don’t you call him?" So I called Dr. Graham Reynolds up at Cape Breton University. I called him, and he said, "By all means, come in." I said, "I’d just like to audit the course. I’m not a student. I’m 73." He said, "It doesn’t matter." So I went to the course. This is... 1999. 1999, the year, going into 2000. At the second, the second lecture, he was talking about justice, injustices. Next thing you know, my sister’s picture you saw on the screen. I said, "Oh, that’s my sister!" That’s the beginning of it. That is the beginning of the whole thing. The beginning of my... So, you know, he said, "I don’t know why you audit this. You ought to register." And then Joe said, "You ought to register as a student because you like it." I had-- I loved it! The four years I was there.

Spreading Viola Desmond’s Legacy: Wanda Robson’s . . .

2 min 17 s

Wanda Robson discusses her efforts to raise awareness and keep her sister Viola’s story alive for f...

Wanda Robson: During this time, since Dr. Reynolds realized that I had a story to tell and I could go over, maybe help and talk to the children in the school about what happened to Viola and the education. But not use it as education, just use it as a story, as a sort of something to go by, something to listen to and understand. So that’s what we did. And then I was on my own when I graduated in 2004. And I’d been asked to go, you know, to various schools in the province, and to even colleges, and law offices, churches, groups, children’s groups and adult groups. It’s been, as my husband would say, it’s been quite a ride. We just... I’m still happy and proud. So proud that I’m able. I mean, the body’s going, but I hope the mind isn’t going. But I just feel so privileged to speak to these young people and a lot of them are now doing the same thing, the college girls, and the college people are understanding, the university people. And when I say that they should be educated, it can be anything that they enjoy. Well, years ago, you’d say, "Oh, are you going to be a doctor, a lawyer or something?" Yeah, okay. That’s fine. But look what they have to offer to them today. I mean, if you want to be... My mother would say, "If you want to be a truck driver, you go get certified or whatever and be the best one you can be." But do what you like, what you enjoy doing. This is what I tell the young people.

The Queen’s Prerogative Pardon of Mercy

2 min 21 s

Wanda Robson shares her perspective on the Queen’s prerogative pardon of mercy and what it means to...

Wanda Robson: I was looking at the picture of the pardon, of the signing of the Lieutenant Governor Mayann Francis. She was black, a first. A first. Wonderful woman. Of her sitting there. And I really-- I went there to the Government House in Halifax. I didn’t really know that they were going to do this, to sign a pardon. I knew there was something going on about Viola, concerning Viola. But then, I was up on the stage and there she was. We have a picture of that, which I think it’s wonderful. But she’s signing the pardon, for the Queen in the Queen’s place, position, the Queen’s prerogative pardon of mercy. I think that’s correct. And I said, "This is for my sister? Her family, they’re getting a pardon after all those years?" It happened in 1947, 1946. I can’t believe it. And... Still, when I think of it, my mind is back there now. She’s sitting there, she, Lieutenant Governor Mayann Francis is sitting there signing. She’s acting for the Queen. The Queen. The Queen’s prerogative of mercy. And it’s a... it's a moment that... Of course, we have pictures of that. But just think, passing that down to our grandchildren, my grandchildren and my children themselves. They... They think, "Mom, it's just wonderful."