NB: originally published on October 28, 2016 by the Ottawa Citizen.
In his article “Legacy of Terror”, Andrew Potter poses a key question: Is our relative peace, and tolerance of newcomers to Canada, 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 my own question: Why is it that so many visitors from across Canada come to Ottawa and they visit Parliament Hill, and then they stroll down Sparks Street, see the big number 56, and they take photos to show the folks back home – to prove that there really was, and is, a 56 Sparks Street?
I believe that one of the 12 women nominated to appear on a Canadian banknote is a key reason why Canada has become a more compassionate and tolerant society. Through her almost daily TV and radio PSAs in the 50s, 60s and 70s, Lotta Hitschmanova (1909-1990) made 56 Sparks Street 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!