Celebrating a Canadian “pioneer” on International Women’s Day

“Development often starts with a woman. Support leadership programs for women through the USC, 56 Sparks Street, Ottawa.”

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, let’s give a thought to one of our pioneering women leaders, Lotta Hitschmanova, and the impact she had on her adopted country, Canada.

Quite remarkably, as a refugee, she became perhaps the most prominent Canadian woman of her generation. But more than that, she pushed hard for women’s development around the world, well before this became a key approach followed by international development agencies.

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Little known Lotta facts for a Friday: Did you know? Lotta loved to laugh!

The public image that Dr Lotta Hitschmanova projected to millions of Canadians – through her famous TV and radio ads in the 60s and 70s – was that of a sincere, compassionate, caring, very serious human being.

As I have suggested elsewhere, she was our conscience, our national priest, rabbi and imam, all rolled into one. And yet.

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Thanks for visiting: 1000th visitor received at Lotta56sparks.ca

This week, the new Lotta56sparks.ca blog has received its 1,000th visitor!

Sincere thanks to those who have dropped by to reminisce or learn something new about Lotta Hitschmanova, and special appreciation for those who have shared their own “Lotta stories” so others can learn about this inspiring refugee to Canada and the unique part she played in Canadian social history.

In case you missed them, here are the 5 most popular blog posts to date: Continue reading

Special Bank of Canada survey, Update #3: the ultimate paradox, Lotta’s name isn’t well known

Lotta Hitschmanova on a Canadian bank noteFor me, one of the more surprising results of the Bank of Canada’s survey on 12 “bank-notable” women was how few people (29%) recognized Lotta Hitschmanova’s name.

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Special Bank of Canada Update #1: Elsie MacGill and Lotta Hitschmanova ranked highest in cross-Canada survey!

Lotta Hitschmanova on a Canadian bank noteWhen the Bank of Canada announced its short list of 5 women candidates to appear on a Canadian banknote, I was a bit surprised to read that Lotta Hitschmanova (1909-1990) wasn’t on the list. I wondered, perhaps I had been mistaken, and Lotta’s story no longer resonated with Canadians to the degree I thought it did.

Recently the Bank of Canada has published the full details of the cross-country survey of 2,000 Canadians who voiced their opinions about the women (including Lotta) who had made it onto the long list of 12 “bank-notable” Canadian women.

In my upcoming series of Lotta56sparks.ca blog posts, I will highlight some of the results of this cross-Canada survey. Here is today’s key finding: Continue reading

Little known Lotta facts for a Friday: she didn’t get her American visa

1942 canadian postage stampAfter 4 years of wandering around Europe as a refugee, Lotta Hitschmanova applied for a visa to immigrate to America.

She was rejected, but in January 1942, she received the following message in a telegram, as related by Lotta’s biographer, Clyde Sanger:

“Hitschmanova Canadian duration visa granted.”

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Lotta Hitschmanova: What it Means to be a Refugee

“To be a refugee, to be without a home, to be without country, to be without friends … you have no more roots, you have no one to turn to.”

Lotta Hitschmanova (1909-1990) became one of Canada’s most beloved humanitarians and a role model and champion for women’s rights.

Before this, however, Lotta experienced the extreme pain of being uprooted, from her beloved Czech homeland, wandering across Western Europe as a refugee from 1938 to 1942. Continue reading

Little known Lotta facts for a Friday: from wineries to firehalls – “life in the trenches”

‘The smell was enough to give you the DTs.”

Lotta Hitschmanova inspired thousands of USC Canada supporters from coast to coast, many of whom packed clothing for shipment to those in need overseas. Sometimes they volunteered in unusual circumstances, as Lotta’s biographer Clyde Sanger has noted:

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Would Lotta have marched?

Lotta Hitschmanova, Cyprus, 1950s

“It seems to have been an instinctive desire on her part to bring out the leadership qualities she knew were in so many talented women she met, and an intuition that their ideas on human development would match her own.”

As millions of women and men around the world march to the cry of “women’s rights are human rights” – amid calls for greater tolerance, social justice, dignity and respect – a tiny candle of remembrance lights itself in honour of our women’s rights pioneers of times passed.

Lotta Hitschmanova (1909-1990) was one of those early pioneers.

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