Angus Reid banknote survey – what happened to Lotta?

Yesterday, the Angus Reid Institute published survey results asking respondents which of the eight Bank of Canada nominees should appear on our next $5 banknote.

As I have suggested in an earlier article:

All eight are worthy nominees and should be honoured in different ways. That said, two candidates have so much in common that I feel they would make an “ideal couple” to grace our next $5 bill: Lotta Hitschmanova and Terry Fox.

It is no surprise that a high percentage of the Angus Reid survey respondents (57%) would like to see Terry Fox on the next $5 bill. It is, however, very surprising to learn that Lotta scored so very low (9%) on this survey, and even more surprising that “Quebec residents are also more likely than others to choose Lotta Hitschmanova.”

Terry Fox and Lotta Hitschmanova were two of the most iconic nationally recognizable figures ever to appear in our rich Canadian social history. Each was a source of deep inspiration and each made a lasting impact on generations of Canadians: Lotta, in the 1940s, 50s, 60s and 70s; Terry, in the 1980s onwards. And although all eight nominees are deserving of recognition, it is fair to say that only Terry and Lotta have a truly national profile across multiple sections of Canadian society.

What explains, then, the very low score that Lotta received in this survey? I have great respect for the work of Angus Reid Institute and do not in any way dispute the actual survey results that were presented. I am greatly puzzled by these results, however, and seriously wonder whether they reflect the situation amongst the broader Canadian population. Have people forgotten Lotta, forgotten her inspirational story?

There are two aspects to surveys, of course: who was asked the questions, and what were they asked.

On the who side, I see that this was an online survey and that respondents were “in house”, i.e. drawn from the Angus Reid Forum:

“Angus Reid Forum is an online community of adults living in Canada who have been provided with a forum to voice their opinions. Members answer questions by completing short, easy, and interesting surveys on a variety of topics and issues.”

Could there be factors within the Angus Reid Forum profile that are somehow not representative of the broader Canadian society, in particular vis a vis Lotta Hitschmanova? NB: I asked Angus Reid for comments on this point, and share their response in full below, as an addendum to this article.

Of relevance to Lotta’s case, in particular, since her famous TV and radio PSAs came to an end in the 1970s, is the weight given in the survey sample to older respondents. I see that about 37% of respondents were 55+, and a quick glance at the recent Statistics Canada breakdowns indicates that this is not far off from the general population.

That said, it would be interesting to know how closely the age group breakdown within the 55+ group matches the Statistics Canada percentages for our total population. I ask this, as the older the age group within the 55+ category, the more likely they are to remember Lotta and to respond favourably to her image being on a banknote (and more likely to actually be using banknotes too). NB: I have shared the full Angus Reid response to this article below, as an addendum.

Currently, it is estimated that more than 9 million Canadians are over 60, 6.8 million are over 65, etc. That’s a very sizable number of Canadians who would likely remember Lotta’s ubiquitous TV and radio PSAs and respond favourably to her.

The situation in Quebec. As mentioned, I found the Angus Reid conclusion that Quebecers are more likely to choose Lotta than non-Quebecers to be particularly puzzling. From my own experience, after communicating with thousands of Canadians about Lotta, I came to discover that in Quebec, very few francophones had even heard of her, and a very small percentage of Quebec anglophones, the same.

The reality is that though Lotta was fluent in French (and educated at the Sorbonne), her entire working life in Canada was in English, and very few of those famous TV and radio PSAs ever got shown in Quebec.

Unless a very large number of folks of a certain age have moved from the rest of Canada to Quebec, then it is hard to accept at face value that Quebecers in the general population are more likely to choose Lotta than those outside Quebec, that just doesn’t ring true at all.

Regarding the what, what were respondents asked. This is a key element, I believe, in explaining the results obtained. Of course, a survey is just a survey, and what Angus Reid provided respondents was fair to all nominees, there was a Bank of Canada photo plus brief description.

That said, in Lotta’s case, there are some key missing elements that may help explain the results. The photo used in the survey (pictured above) is one of Lotta at a very young age, taken in the 1940s, at her desk, without her famous hat.

But the Lotta that we of a certain age remember is older, she wore a hat, and was often pictured overseas, in an action photo, like the Terry Fox photo that was used. I’m sure many respondents did not visually “recognize” Lotta in this photo, nor those who visit the Bank of Canada website.

What about her name, isn’t that recognizable? Apart from those who were Lotta’s direct supporters, her name, I have discovered, through many conversations, is not the key aspect of how people in the general population remember who she was. It is a complicated name, difficult to pronounce, difficult to spell or remember. How many times have I asked someone do you remember Lotta Hitschmanova and got a blank stare? But when I added other elements of who she was, oh my, emotions would pore out of that same person as they suddenly “recognized” who Lotta was.

The key elements of what people remember are these: her uniform, with hat, as an older woman, often in Asian or African settings; her association with the Unitarian Service Committee (not mentioned in the short survey bio), and especially the address she made so famous in her PSAs, 56 Sparks Street (also not mentioned in the survey bio, nor on the Bank of Canada website).

NB: as readers of this blog are well aware, Lotta and 56 Sparks (an Ottawa pilgrimage site) are so intertwined that I ended up making the blog’s URL,

Again I don’t blame Angus Reid, the survey was fair; however, I do believe that if the above elements had been included in the survey, the response rate for Lotta would have gone up dramatically, as people would have “recognized” her far more easily.

And lastly, and again, no fault to the Angus Reid survey, but her voice, her famous Czech-accented voice alone brings back so many memories for millions of Canadians. And if people of a certain age hear that voice, they immediately respond to that, and amongst the 9 million Canadians aged 60+, if we were to play a 15 second clip of Lotta speaking, the response rate would go off the charts, just like that.

All surveys have their own particular challenges. At a certain point in our future Canadian history, if people across Canada are asked who Lotta Hitschmanova was or whether she deserves an honour of some kind, there might well be very few responses, but I truly don’t think we’ve reached that point just yet.

Terry Fox and Lotta Hitschmanova were both iconic Canadians who inspired not just one generation but generations of Canadians, and I feel our next $5 bank note would receive great support amongst the general population if both legends were featured together.

David Rain

Addendum: Angus Reid response to this article.

Dear David,

Thank you for your emails.

On one hand you say “It is no surprise that a high percentage of the Angus Reid survey respondents (57%) would like to see Terry Fox on the next $5 bill.” On the other hand, you express surprise at the lower number of people supporting Ms. Hitschmanova’s candidacy, and attribute this to the membership of the Angus Reid Forum not being representative of the Canadian population.

I can only point out that the same forum members expressed opinions about both individuals. So your premise is contradictory when you assert that the results regarding one are “no surprise” while those regarding the other are “very surprising”.

We stand by our methodology.

Shachi Kurl, President
Angus Reid Instiute


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