Lotta Hitschmanova can help save the Sparks Street Mall

I wrote this letter to the editor on March 22, 2019 and have sent it to the Ottawa Citizen:

I read with interest this morning’s Ottawa Citizen article, “City’s public consultation yields Sparks Street vision,” and went down to 79 Sparks to check it all out.

I was disappointed to learn that there is no direct reference to Canada’s most famous address, 56 Sparks Street, nor to the celebrated woman who made this address so well known across Canada, Dr. Lotta Hitschmanova, CC (1909-1990).

For decades, visitors to Ottawa have found themselves strolling along the Sparks Street Mall, have come across the “56 Sparks” sign, which has suddenly stopped them in their tracks. They have then experienced a moment of intense nostalgia, hearing Lotta’s voice on the radio or TV replaying in their minds. After which, they have taken selfies beside the “56” sign, to show the folks back home that (like Timbuktu in Mali) 56 Sparks Street really does exist.

So why not build on this pre-existing interest and energy to visit Sparks Street? Three suggestions:

1. Lotta singlehandedly made the city of Ottawa not just a national centre for power and politics, but indeed Canada’s centre for care and compassion for others in need around the world. Why not create the Lotta Hitschmanova Humanitarian Centre (79 Sparks would be an ideal location), to feature her story and the story of thousands of other caring and courageous Canadian workers who have given service in far off lands?

2. The one thing that everyone who grew up in the 1960s and 70s remembers is her voice. Why not take inspiration from that great Oscar Peterson memorial around the corner, and have a button that people can push outside 56 Sparks to hear Lotta’s voice again?

3. And lastly, if there is to be a Sparks Street Mall app, be sure to include images, stories, videos and recordings that bring Lotta’s legacy to life for all Canadians.

I should add that this is not merely a nostalgia trip for people of a certain age; younger folks who don’t yet know who Lotta was, will surely be inspired by her life.

Lotta was perhaps the best-known example of a refugee to Canada who had nothing when she arrived, and yet by the time of her death, she had imprinted herself on the social landscape of her adopted country, and made a lasting impact to this very day. And as a role model for women (and men) to live a life of service, there can be very few more inspiring examples than Lotta.

I believe that Lotta can help save and indeed “anchor” the Sparks Street Mall for visitors from across the country.

David Rain

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