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The Poppy Lady of 149 Somerset Street West

The Canadian Nordic Society is very fortunate to have been able to enjoy the use of the beautiful building at 149 Somerset Street West in Ottawa for our lunches and meetings for many years, and we certainly hope to continue to do so for many more! The building became the Army Officers’ Mess in 1957. It was in 1913 that A.J. Freiman, department store owner and a leader in the Jewish community, and his wife Lillian Bilsky Freiman, built onto the older 1891 property and made it their home.

Lillian Bilsky Freiman was born in 1885 in Mattawa, Ontario to a Jewish family of Russian- Lithuanian descent. She married A. J. Freiman in 1903 and their three children were born between 1906 and 1912. When World War I broke out, Lillian Bilsky Freiman set up 30 sewing machines in her home at 149 Somerset Street West and organized Red Cross sewing circles to send blankets and clothing to the soldiers overseas. She co-founded The Great War Veterans Association, which would become the Royal Canadian Legion, and was the first woman to become an honorary life member of that organization. In 1921, to raise funds for First World War veterans, she made the first Canadian poppies in her living room, and thus acquired her nickname “The Poppy Lady.” She also helped around 150 Jewish war orphans from the Ukraine to emigrate to Canada, including a 12-year-old orphan named Gladys Rozovsky whom she and her husband adopted. She was involved in many other charitable fund-raising and community leadership efforts over her lifetime as well.

Lilian Bilsky Freiman was the first Jewish Canadian to receive the Order of the British Empire, which was presented to her on New Year’s Day, 1934, by King George V. In 2008, she was designated a Person of National Historic Significance by the Canadian Government for being "a gifted organizer and philanthropist who worked to improve the health and welfare of her fellow citizens.”

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