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Transcript: The Izzy Doll

The Canadian War Museum holds millions of objects in the National Collection. Each one tells a story. Let’s look closely at one of the Museum’s most popular artifacts: the Izzy Doll.

Measuring about 15 centimetres, the Izzy doll is a pocket- sized artifact. But what makes this doll special? Why does the Museum have so many of these dolls in the National Collection? The Izzy doll is a perfect example of a seemingly ordinary object that can help us tell an extraordinary story. Let’s take a closer look.

Let’s start with the obvious question, why is it called an Izzy doll?

This story starts in the 1990s, when Master Corporal Mark Isfeld of 1 Combat Engineer Regiment was serving in a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Croatia. While serving, Isfeld was moved by the suffering he witnessed, especially among the children he and his fellow soldiers encountered in Croatia. He noticed that many children had no toys or personal possessions as their families had fled from danger. This inspired him to ask his mother, Carol Isfeld, to knit dolls small enough to fit in his pockets, that he could give to children as an offering of peace and comfort.

Master Corporal Isfeld was killed while on a mine clearing operation in Croatia on June 21st, 1994. After his death, fellow soldiers asked his mother if she could continue making dolls for them to distribute. They named the dolls “Izzy dolls” in his honour. Each doll comes with a tag that says:   “IZZY DOLL Made for you with love in memory of Mark Isfeld killed in Kakma, Croatia, June 21st 1994, while removing landmines serving with One Combat Engineer Regiment, United Nations Protection Force”.

What started with only Carol Isfeld and some friends making dolls quickly became something much larger as people across Canada joined in. The knitting pattern can now be found online and volunteers across Canada can knit these dolls and send them to Canadian troops deployed around the world.

How the dolls look has also evolved over the past couple of decades. Originally, they were made either as boys with the peacekeepers’ UN blue beret, or girls with braids and a floppy hat. Over time, the appearance of the doll has shifted to reflect the diversity of the children who receive these gifts of peace and they are now made in many different versions and colours.

The Izzy doll network, now including multiple Canadian groups and charities, continues to grow and to date over 1.3 million Izzy dolls have been distributed to kids around the world.

Thirty years since the original dolls were distributed, they remain a legacy of the late Master Corporal Mark “Izzy” Isfeld. This personal act of remembrance grew to have an international presence.