Happy Birthday Lotta! Though you won’t be printed on our $100 bills, you will always be etched in our hearts.

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Welcome to the launching of Lotta56sparks.ca – on this, the 107th anniversary of one of Canada’s most beloved humanitarians!

Though Dr. Lotta did not make it onto the Bank of Canada’s short list of five women banknote candidates, there is still much cause for celebration, and indeed for reflection on the lasting impact that she has had on our Canadian society.

We live in a time of increasing tensions, conflicts, divisions within societies, and growing intolerance of “others.”

In Canada, we have long been blessed with relative peace, tolerance and a welcoming spirit towards newcomers, as well as a compassionate spirit towards those in need around the world.

Has this been a geographical or historical accident, or is there something special about our policies, national identity and character?

I’d like to offer a response by way of a question:

56-sparks-photoWhy is it that so many visitors from across Canada come to Ottawa, visit Parliament Hill, stroll down Sparks Street and when they see the big number 56, they stop and take photos to show the folks back home – to prove that there really was, and is, a 56 Sparks Street?

I believe the influence that Lotta had on generations of Canadians, as a public figure and a national “educator”, is a key reason why Canada has become a more compassionate and tolerant society.

Through her almost daily TV and radio PSAs in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, Lotta made 56 Sparks Street perhaps Canada’s most famous address.

More importantly, she put Ottawa on the map, not merely as a seat of national government and political debate, but as a centre of Canadian concern and compassion for the rest of the world.

In a real sense, she was Canada’s national priest, rabbi and imam, all rolled into one. She was our conscience, she had a unique pulpit to preach from, and she touched our hearts with her sermons of peace and tolerance to everyone, regardless of race or religion.

The fact that Lotta was a woman in a man’s world, that she was a refugee herself, that she spoke with a strong accent – all of these added to a uniquely Canadian story that may have few parallels in any other country in the world.

The sincerity of her message, heard and remembered in deep emotional recesses of millions of Canadian souls, planted seeds of compassion and tolerance that are still sprouting in our Canadian society.

Thank you Lotta, and Happy Birthday!

David Rain

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