My sincere thanks go out to the more than 1,300 individuals who signed the “Let’s put Lotta on a Stamp” petition.
I will keep readers updated on any developments, as soon as I learn of them myself.
Here is my letter:
It is my great pleasure to propose to you that a Canadian commemorative stamp be created in the name of Dr. Lotta Hitschmanova, CC (1909-1990).
Here are a few of the reasons why I feel Dr. Lotta – as she affectionately came to be known – should be honoured in this way.
She was a courageous pioneering woman, who began life in Canada as a refugee, with no money, an unpronounceable name, feeling completely lost. And yet, she overcame these obstacles and from the 1940s through to the 1980s became one of our most recognizable and celebrated public figures.
More importantly, she was one of our most beloved humanitarians, mobilizing generations of Canadians to reach out and help others in need far away. In a very real sense, Dr. Lotta was instrumental in helping to shape the caring society that Canada has become today: “Charity begins at home, indeed it does. And then it goes on to embrace next door neighbours, and all those who need help.”
Born in Prague on November 28, 1909, Dr. Lotta came to Canada as a World War II refugee in 1942. Just three years later, having lost her parents in the Holocaust, she founded the organization to whose mission she would dedicate the rest of her life: the Unitarian Service Committee of Canada, or USC Canada, as it later became known [NB: in 2019, USC Canada legally changed its name to SeedChange].
Dr. Lotta deeply cared for her fellow human-beings in far off lands. Her work took her back to post-war Europe, and to Africa and Asia – to conflict zones and newly-independent nations, where the need was greatest. She urged Canadians to become more aware of people’s living conditions on the other side of the planet and to take action and help.
Who can forget her distinctive Czech accent (and her unique uniform and cap) during those TV and radio ads in the 50s, 60s and 70s, asking Canadians to “please give generously” to the USC? For many Canadians, USC’s address – “56 Sparks Street, Ottawa 4” – became the most recognizable address in the country, and one of Canada’s “must see” pilgrimage sites.
Before Dr. Lotta, Ottawa was principally known as the centre of Canadian power and politics. She single-handedly changed that perception, and for several generations of Canadians, Ottawa became known as a centre for compassion and caring for people in need around the world.
Dr. Lotta devoted her whole life to making the world a “better, kinder place for all.” She was a tireless campaigner, criss-crossing the country for months on end in order to get her message out. On these annual trips, she was able to mobilize donations in astounding quantities – food, clothing and cash – and reported back to Canadians on where the need was greatest and how the money was being spent. She also spent long periods of time each year overseas, personally monitoring the projects that USC was supporting around the world.
A trained journalist, with a PhD from Prague University, Dr. Lotta was a master communicator, a great story teller, and one of Canada’s most prolific fundraisers. Thousands of Canadians from all faiths and walks of life responded to the sincerity of her message, and became lifelong supporters. The loyalty of these supporters, and the admiration in which they held Dr. Lotta, is legendary.
Dr. Lotta’s life was one of great achievement and public recognition. Her many awards included the Gold Medal, Red Cross of France (1950), the Athena Messalora Gold Medal from Greece (1967), Officer of the Order of Canada (1972) and Companion of the Order of Canada (1980). She also received the Rotary Award for World Understanding (1983), the year after Pope John Paul II received the very same award. And in 1991, Agriculture Canada honoured her by naming a newly developed oat variety: AC Lotta.
More recently, in 2007, the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa recognized Dr. Lotta’s many contributions by including her in its permanent exhibition, “Face to Face: the Canadian Personalities Hall.” When the Hall was redesigned and reopened as the Canadian Museum of History, Dr Lotta’s story – and her famous uniform – were again prominently displayed in the exhibition.
Dr. Lotta’s remarkable life still resonates and inspires Canadians across the country until this very day. In 2017, she was put forward as one of 12 women nominated to appear on a redesigned $10 Canadian banknote. And when the Bank of Canada conducted a survey of 2,000 Canadians, the following was discovered: “More than half of survey respondents include Elsie MacGill (54%) and Dr. Lotta Hitschmanova (52%) in their top four nominees based on their biographies. The remaining nominees have a range of support from respondents, from 22% for Gabrielle Roy to 40% for Viola Desmond.”
I feel that Dr. Lotta is most deserving of having a commemorative stamp created in her honour: because of her personal accomplishments of the highest order, as a refugee to Canada; and because of how significantly she contributed to her adopted country, over the course of four decades. In addition, her immediately recognizable image with iconic uniform and cap visually makes her an ideal candidate for a commemorative stamp. Indeed, she was often referred to as the “Soldier of Peace”, which became the name of a 1988 CBC documentary film about her life’s work.
In support of this application, I attach (via email) the names of over 1300 signatories to the Let’s Put Lotta on a Stamp petition that I started on Change.org, as well as dozens of testimonials from Canadians across the country who have supported this idea. I would also like to acknowledge Dr. Lotta’s biographer, Clyde Sanger, whose painstaking research for his 1986 book “Lotta and the USC story” has enriched our collective knowledge about this remarkable woman.
PS I worked with the organization founded by Dr. Lotta, USC Canada, from 1993 to 2015, and I personally met many of the old-time USC volunteers and supporters who shared their “Lotta stories” with me. As a result of this experience, when I retired, I established a website/blog in Dr. Lotta’s honour: www.Lotta56sparks.ca.