Why is it that so many visitors come to Ottawa from across Canada, and after taking a tour of Parliament Hill, they find themselves strolling down the Sparks Street Mall, when all of a sudden, they catch sight of a big door with the number 56 on top of it, their eyes pop out with incredulity, they come to a quick stop and then they start taking souvenir snapshots – to show the folks back home – to prove that there really was, and is, a 56 Sparks Street?
Millions of Canadians of a certain age can still remember hearing that distinctive voice floating through the airwaves:
“This is Lotta Hitschmanova of the Unitarian Service, 56 Sparks Street, Ottawa 4.”
Through her almost daily TV and radio PSAs in the 1960s and 70s, Lotta made 56 Sparks Street perhaps Canada’s most famous address.
Through her impassioned pleas for Canadians to help others in need far away, she put Ottawa (and 56 Sparks) 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.
The domain name for this website, lotta56sparks.ca, has been chosen to recognize both this iconic Ottawa address, as well as the woman who single-handedly made it so famous. And to this day, the offices of the organization that Lotta founded, USC Canada, can still be found at 56 Sparks, along with a plaque in her memory.
On a personal note: Believe it or not, in 1993, my knees were shaking when I went for my USC Canada job interview: “56 Sparks, I thought, OMG, I’m going for a job interview at 56 Sparks!”
I believe her voice was also used when you got a phone number out of service: “The number you dialed is not in service. This is a recording.”
Perhaps it was someone imitating her voice, it would be unlikely that Lotta would have agreed to something like this.
I am one of those tourists who went looking for 56 Sparks St Ottawa. It was around 2015 and my first summer trip to Ottawa. My main goal was to find 56 Sparks St, which I did, just a number above a door, but it was rewarding to actually see it. And Sparks St was amazing, stone covered and no vehicles. The buskers were fascinating. I highly recommend a visit to this historic street.
Such a notable address. Thanks for all these great stories.