In the 1940s to 1970s, Dr. Lotta Hitschmanova became one of Canada’s most recognized public figures. More importantly, she became one of Canada’s greatest humanitarians, as she mobilized a whole generation of Canadians to reach out and help others in need. In a very real sense, she was instrumental in helping to shape the caring society that Canada has become.
Born in Prague on November 28, 1909, Dr. Hitschmanova came to Canada during World War II as a refugee. In 1945, she founded the organization to whose mission she would dedicate the rest of her life: the Unitarian Service Committee of Canada, or USC Canada, as it later became known.
Dr. Hitschmanova deeply cared for her fellow human beings in far off lands. Her work took her back to post-war Europe, and to Africa and Asia – to conflict zones and newly-independent nations, where the need was greatest. She urged Canadians to become more aware of people’s living conditions and to take action and help.
A Voice to Remember
Who can forget her distinctive Czech accent (and her unique uniform and cap) during those TV and radio ads in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, asking Canadians to give generously to the USC? For many Canadians, USC’s address – 56 Sparks Street, Ottawa – became the most recognizable address in the country.
Dr. Hitschmanova devoted her whole life to making the world a “better, kinder place for all.” She was a tireless campaigner, criss-crossing the country for months on end in order to get her message out. On these annual trips, she was able to mobilize donations in astounding quantities – food, clothing, and cash – and reported back to Canadians on where the need was greatest and how the money was being spent. She also spent long periods of time each year personally monitoring the projects that USC was supporting around the world.
A trained journalist, with a PhD from Prague University, Dr. Hitschmanova was a master communicator, and a great story teller. Thousands of Canadians from all faiths and walks of life responded to the sincerity of her message, and became lifelong supporters of “Dr. Lotta,” as she affectionately came to be known. The loyalty of these supporters, and the admiration in which they held Dr. Lotta, is legendary.
Dr. Lotta’s influence was not restricted just to her work with USC Canada, however. Thanks in large measure to Dr. Lotta’s tireless efforts, and the efforts of others of her generation, a solid foundation for the Canadian public’s support to international humanitarian and development assistance was laid.
Awards and Recognition
Dr. Lotta’s life was one of great achievement and public recognition. In addition to her PhD from Prague, she received an honourary PhD from the University of Waterloo (1988). Her many awards included the Red Cross of France (1950), the Medal of St. Paul from Greece (1952), Officer of the Order of Canada (1969), Companion of the Order of Canada (1980), and in 1991, Agriculture Canada honoured her by naming a newly developed oat variety: AC Lotta.
More recently, in 2007 the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau (QC) recognized Dr. Lotta’s many contributions by including her in its permanent exhibition, “Face to Face: the Canadian Personalities Hall.” The Personalities Hall “brings visitors face to face with 27 fascinating people whose decisions, actions and accomplishments shaped Canada.”
Sadly, Dr. Lotta Hitschmanova died on August 1, 1990, after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for more than a decade. Her legacy lives on, however, in the work of the organization she founded, USC Canada, and in the memories of the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who still remember her and admire the work she did and what she stood for.
For more information about Dr. Lotta’s life and work, read this article on Wikipedia, or to obtain a copy of Clyde Sanger’s 266 page biography, “Lotta and the Unitarian Service Committee Story”, please contact David Rain by email or by telephone (1-800-565-6872 ext 231).