Sunday, December 24, 2023

Canadian Heroines: Lillian Freiman

Lillian Freiman

By Terrie Todd

What I love most about this woman is that she didn’t just toss money at causes. She immersed herself in the work.

Being born female alone would have been a strike against the likelihood of her becoming a leader. Being born Jewish would be strike two. Somehow, Lillian Freiman rose above. She knocked the ball right out of the park using her resources to benefit others.

Her father provided a great example. On June 6, 1885, Lillian was born the fifth of 11 surviving children to Moses and Pauline Bilsky. The family settled in Ottawa in the early 1890s and Moses became a prominent member of the city’s Jewish community. Their home was open to all who needed help, particularly new immigrants.

By the time she was a teen, Lillian had joined the Ottawa Ladies’ Hebrew Benevolent Society. She also started working with troubled youth through the city’s Children’s Aid Society.

In 1903, at 18, she married Archibald J. Freiman, a Lithuanian-born Jew who founded Freiman’s, a successful department store. Lillian bore three children—Dorothy, Lawrence, and Esther—before the Great War broke out. Nevertheless, she devoted herself to providing comforts to the soldiers at the front and those stationed in Ottawa. In 1915, she installed 30 sewing machines in her home, where women gathered to make sheets, blankets, and clothing to send overseas. This club later became the Disraeli Chapter of the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire (IODE).

In 1917, Freiman foresaw the difficulties returning soldiers would face in their transition back to Canadian society. She helped form the Ottawa chapter of the Great War Veterans’ Association of Canada. This organization later became the Royal Canadian Legion. Freiman contributed space in her home and furnishings for the office that served as the local headquarters. She wrote the first letter of the organization at the desk she donated.

When the great flu pandemic struck Ottawa in 1918, Mayor Harold Fisher recruited Lillian Freiman to organize a special body to deal with the crisis. She rose to the challenge, working relentlessly with Dr. Robert Law. Lillian organized 1500 volunteers who nursed the sick and provided food and clothing. A born caregiver, she set up and managed three temporary hospitals.

In 1921, when Lillian learned of a poppy initiative occurring in France, she saw the potential of a similar campaign to help Canada’s veterans and their families. She gathered women in her home to create cloth poppies. The first Poppy Day occurred on November 11, 1921. Freiman chaired the Legion’s Poppy Campaign from that year until her death in 1940. The lower half of her coffin was covered with red poppies.

Perhaps Lillian’s greatest achievement—and most personal investment—involved Ukrainian war orphans. Government regulations passed in the 1920s made it difficult for immigrants, especially Jews, to enter Canada. Not one of Eastern Europe’s 137,000 Jewish orphans had been granted entry to Canada or the United States. Freiman arranged a meeting with Frederick Charles Blair, an official with the Department of Immigration and Colonization. She requested that a thousand Jewish Ukrainian war orphans be allowed into the country and launched a campaign to raise money and find adoptive families. In 1921, after raising $100,000, she traveled to Belgium to oversee the transport and placement of about 150 children. The Freimans adopted 11-year-old Gladys Rozovsky.

Lillian Freiman died on November 2, 1940, at the age of 55. She was the first Jewish Canadian to receive the Order of the British Empire.


100 Canadian Heroines: Famous and Forgotten Faces, by Merna Forster, Dundurn Press, 2004


The Canadian Encyclopedia

Emmaleen Kimball is 14 when she becomes convinced she really belongs to a tribe of Gypsies. Why won’t anyone tell her the truth? Was the whole world out to deceive her? And more importantly, did they really think she’d never figure it out?

Bernadette Kimball is 27 with no marriage prospects in sight. And with all the men fighting overseas, that isn’t likely to change. Not that she cares. Who needs a family? Families are just one big mess of secrets and lies.

April Kimball-Madden carries the burden of a secret she promised never to share. How can she tell Emmaleen when she’s never told her own husband the truth? Joey has no idea Emmaleen isn’t really his wife’s little sister and if he ever finds out who her biological father is, it will open a can of worms so big her household will never survive.

Can these three sisters reconcile their worst fears and deepest longings before it’s too late? Will the faith they’ve been taught and the mercy they’ve been shown be enough to bring peace to their hearts even in the midst of war?

April’s Promise was short-listed in both the 2020 Word Awards & the 2020 Braun Book Awards.

Terrie Todd’s novels are set in Manitoba where she lives. She lives with her husband, Jon, in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, Canada where they raised their three children and where her novels are (mostly) set. They are grandparents to five boys.

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting this story of another remarkable woman! Merry Christmas to you and yours!