Let’s keep history alive – share your memories of Lotta Hitschmanova!

Exciting news for Lotta Hitschmanova fans across the country.

The humanitarian agency that she founded in 1945, the Unitarian Service Committee (USC Canada), has just announced a very special project at its headquarters, still located at the famous 56 Sparks Street address in Ottawa:

We’re organizing decades worth of Lotta archives with a special project in mind.

And there’s a lot to go through: from albums of black and white photos taken in all corners of the globe and stacks of handwritten notes from dedicated supporters, to patches from Lotta’s famous uniform and tokens of thanks from people whose lives she helped to change.

To help with this undertaking, Gaelan Coffin, a library and information technician student, is spending a few weeks in our Ottawa office.

If you have a Lotta-related memory, photo or item you want to put forward for this special project, please email Gaelan at archives@usc-canada.org.

I encourage anyone who has memorabilia related to Lotta to participate in this project. Or if you know a relative or older friend who might have known Lotta, go have a chat with them and see what comes up.

Let’s keep history alive! And especially this remarkable, unique story of a WWII refugee who arrived penniless in 1942 and yet who changed her adopted Canadian society in ways that we still should be grateful for.

David Rain

Video: Sheryl-Elaine Brazeau tells Lotta’s story

Sheryl-Elaine’s Lotta story has been told in many settings. Her hope is that “it continues to inspire bold, passionate women everywhere.”

In the early 1970s, Sheryl-Elaine Brazeau held one of the most unique positions in all of Canadian society: she was Lotta Hitschmanova’s personal secretary at the office of USC Canada at one of Canada’s most celebrated addresses, 56 Sparks Street in Ottawa.

Four decades later, Sheryl-Elaine had developed her skills to become one of Ottawa’s gifted storytellers. One day, she decided to apply those skills in a unique way – to honour Dr Lotta by crafting an extended story with the title, “The Early Life of Lotta Hitschmanova.” Continue reading

Before there was “Giving Tuesday”, there was Lotta Hitschmanova!

It is, I believe, no exaggeration to say that Lotta was the greatest fundraiser that our country has ever known. Indeed, she wrote the book on fundraising long before there were professional fundraisers, or any fundraising books at all.

Today is November 28th, “Giving Tuesday”, and thousands of Canadians will be responding to fundraising appeals from charities and non-profits across the country.

Coincidentally it is also the 108th anniversary of the birth of Dr Lotta Hitschmanova (1909-1990), a WWII refugee to Canada who profoundly shaped the society she encountered in her adopted homeland, and indeed, she planted the very seeds for the “Giving Tuesday” that we are celebrating today. Continue reading

The Clifford quilters – a unique patch of Canadian social history

Members of the Carry on Club at Gramma Jo’s restaurant in Clifford. Front: From left, Esther Hallman and Jean Field. Back: Marion Derbecker, Ruth Anne Cummings, Lynne Nancekivell and Phyllis Kaufman. Photo by Bonnie Whitehead

I came across a remarkable news item recently, in the Wellington Advertiser, a community paper in southwestern Ontario. Continue reading

How to save Sparks Street – Lotta may offer the answer

A recent Ottawa Citizen column re-ignited a debate about what to do with Canada’s first pedestrian mall on Sparks Street. Here is my response:

As someone who worked on Sparks Street for two decades, I have followed with some interest the debate on whether this street can be “saved” or not. Continue reading

Lotta and a remarkable untold story from Hong Kong

According to Clyde Sanger’s biography of Lotta Hitschmanova, she initiated USC Canada programs in Hong Kong from 1952 to 1980. There must be hundreds if not thousands of stories that could be told. Here is one of them, as related by two Hong Kong twins who still remember Lotta after all these years, Lan Chun and Mui Chun. Continue reading

Video: Friederike Knabe remembering Lotta

“A lot of the volunteers I met had met Lotta for the first time in primary school. For their life, they never forgot it. They never forgot Lotta coming to their class, almost to the date when it happened, in ’58 or ’62, whenever it was. It was such an impression on them, that they became volunteers at an early age.”

In 2009, more than 50 events were held coast to coast to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Dr Lotta Hitschmanova (1909-2009). In Ottawa, USC Canada organized a special “Lotta 100” event to honour their founder. Sherry Tompalski and Graham Thompson were on hand and recorded interviews of participants who shared their recollections and stories about Lotta.

Here is the first in this series, an interview with Friederike Knabe.

Continue reading

Like Lotta, these Jewish refugees made a lasting impact on Canadian society

In a recent Ottawa Chamberfest lecture at the National Gallery of Canada, noted CBC radio host Robert Harris traced the lines of a remarkable story: how five Jewish World War II refugees each ended up playing key roles in the development of music in Canada.

In many ways, their story echoes the story of Dr Lotta Hitschmanova, also a Jewish refugee who left a lasting impact on the social and humanitarian landscape of her adopted country.

The five musical icons were Helmut Kallmann, Helmut Blume, Franz Kraemer, John Newmark and Walter Homburger. Continue reading