“Our bilateral relationship has a rich heritage based on Canada’s storied role in liberating this country during the Second World War.” ~ James Lambert, former Canadian Ambassador to the Netherlands
Canadians are popular in the Netherlands. Ask any Dutchie over a certain age. They’re the ones most likely to recall that Canadian troops liberated Holland from Hitler’s terrifying five-year reign at the end of World War II. During the Nazi occupation, Canada also hosted the Dutch royal family in Ottawa, its capital city.
Dutchies over a certain age are most likely to recall that Canadian troops liberated Holland from Hitler’s terrifying reign at the end of World War II.
Why the Dutch Flag Flew Over Canada
The deepest bond between Canada and the Netherlands was forged after the Dutch royal family’s exile following the bombing of Rotterdam in 1940. Three years later, Queen Juliana gave birth to Princess Margriet in Ottowa Civic Hospital. To protect the Dutch citizenship of the queen’s third daughter, Canada disclaimed the territory temporarily so the princess would not be Canadian by birth. The Dutch flag flew over Canada’s Parliament Building on January 19, 1943 to commemorate the new royal—the only time a foreign flag has flown over the Canadian capitol.
Liberation Day in the Netherlands
Holland’s sweetest spring arrived in 1945 after Canadian troops, assisted by American, Polish and French forces, liberated the Netherlands from Nazi Germany on May 5. Sadly, it was not before 18,000+ Dutch civilians starved to death during the 1944 Hongerwinter (Hunger Winter), when Amsterdam and other cities were cut off from food supplies.
Today, the Netherlands commemorates all who died in World War II, as well as other conflicts around the world, on Nationale Dodenherdenking (National Remembrance Day). Throughout the country, the solemn occasion is observed annually on May 4, with a nationwide two-minute silence at 8pm. In Amsterdam, a ceremony is held at the National Monument on Dam Square featuring speeches by King Willem Alexander, military leaders and veterans.
The mood picks up considerably on Bevrijdingsdag (Liberation Day), celebrated annually on May 5 to commemorate the end of Nazi occupation. Throughout the Netherlands, free open-air music festivals and other activities are organized. Many Dutch parents use the occasion to educate their children about the freedoms of a democratic society.
Thank You Canada!
Every May since 1953, the Canadian Tulip Festival has celebrated the Dutch-Canadian connection.
After the German surrender, Dutch citizens wrote “Thank You Canada!” on their rooftops. As Canadian troops distributed food, they became saviors as well as liberators. To show their gratitude, Dutchies sent thousands of tulips to Ottawa after the war. The Dutch royal family followed suit in 1945, when Princess Juliana presented Ottawa with 100,000 tulip bulbs to thank Canada for its role in the Second World War. The tradition continues with an annual gift of 20,000 bulbs that flower during the 18-day Canadian Tulip Festival, held in Ottawa every May since 1953.
The Dutch-Canadian Connection
Beyond tulips, there are other connections that bind Canada with the Netherlands. For one, both are known for their signature leaves.
Both Dutchies and Canadians favor dishes made with potatoes. On a cold, winter day in Amsterdam, nothing beats a mound of comforting stamppot, a quintessential Dutch dish featuring potatoes mashed with cabbage, endive, carrots, or even sauerkraut, topped with sausage or a meatball and slathered with gravy. If not boiled, potatoes are fried in Holland, evidenced in stands throughout the city proferring Vlaamse frites (Belgian-style fries) with a dizzying array of toppings and sauces.
Canadians are more likely to indulge in poutine, an odd concoction of fries, gravy and cheese curds. Variations abound, but none are likely to do your arteries any good. First served in Quebec restaurants in the late 1950s, poutine is considered by some to be Canada’s national dish.
Finally, neither culture takes itself too seriously, as evidenced by noon yoga on Parliament Hill on Wednesdays in Ottawa and hangover-inducing street parties throughout the year in Amsterdam.
Downward dog, anyone? Head for Ottawa’s Parliament Hill on Wednesdays at noon from mid-May through August for free one-hour yoga classes. Bring your own mat to practice moves with hundreds of other yoga enthusiasts.
Canadians indeed are highly appreciated in Holland. We will never forget the heroic role you guys fighting the Germans. Besides you are not as ignorant as most Americans (who believe Amsterdam and never heard of Holland). Basically we got to know you as friendly people who know how to drink a beer too! 😀
To quote a player in Boom Chicago, “How can you dislike Canadians? They’re like drunken puppies!” They’re also so polite, they apologize for being in the way when you bump into them.
Hahahaha nice! 🙂
That’s a pretty awful thing to say. Americans indeed helped liberate Holland and in fact, our merchant marine helped rebuild your entire shipyards and industry. We also sent tons of food via air to help the starving. We may not have known where you were, but we sacrificed to help you when you needed it. Very ungrateful for you to speak like that, maybe we should have left you there to collaborate with your German brothers, because God knows enough of you did..shameful how you allowed your own citizens to be deported to death camps.
Mike, I’m not sure what awful thing you’re referring to. As my story states, “Holland’s sweetest spring arrived in 1945 after Canadian troops, ASSISTED by U.S., Polish and French forces, liberated the Netherlands on May 5,” giving credit to other troops, as well as the Canadians. As far as slaughtering their own, many Dutchies were deeply involved in the Resistance Movement during WWII. In any case, thanks for reading!
I am Canadian and my mother is dutch. She told me stories of how wonderful the Canadian soliders were and how safe they felt. My great Aunt and Uncle hid the jews on their farm in one of the safe houses. Shame on Mike, for saying what he did above. No wonder a lot of people dislike Americans. If you have a big heart to help others, you don’t need to brag.
The north of the Netherlands and Groningen was mainly liberated by the Canadians. Young men, some of them not even 18 years old, fighting for people they never met , many losing their lives on foreign soil. So yes, the Dutch and certainly the Groningers, have reason to be grateful to those Canadians. Every year, now really old veterans are invited to celebrate the 5th of may. I am from after the war (and let’s keep it that way) but I’m always touched by those old and cheerful men.
Cool post–had no idea re: most of this. Very interesting! PS: Were you at TBEX (the one in Toronto)? I was!
Yes, I was at TBEX Toronto + had a cool 4-day post-conference blog trip to Ottawa, where I learned about the Dutch-Canadian Connection. I was also at TBU Rotterdam…Maybe we’ll meet in Dublin (not sure I’ll be there…off to Crete in October).
You were there? Shame we didn’t meet! 🙁
Unfortunately, I won’t be going to one in Dublin since I’ll be teaching and it’s too hard to take time off. Crete sounds good! 🙂
I’m Canadian and yet didn’t know about Princess Margriet’s birth, so thank you for teaching me a bit of my own history!
Canadians also love the Dutchies, at least this one does. I’ve been to the Netherlands a few times. The only down side is that when in a crowd of Dutchies, my view is all elbows, but they’re nice elbows.
All elbows is right, Laura. Whenever I’m in a crowd of Dutchies, I feel like a midget!
Sounds like your trip to Ottawa was a success! Good to see you experienced so many different aspects to the city – didn’t realize about the Wednesday yoga – will have to get out there for that. Glad we finally got to meet at TBEX – will have to do a better job of keeping in touch! If you make it to Dublin – will be there too!
I loved Ottawa…such an unheralded Canadian city. Plus, Ottawa Tourism was GREAT at showing us the sweet/spicy side on a really well-themed + carried out tour. If you ever need a contact there, Jantine is the best! Not sure about Dublin…I’m going to Crete later that month for a photo workshop. Need to buy a new camera before then!
Indeed, very informative and interesting post. I was in Ottawa many moons ago. I remember vaguely that the tour guide explained about tulips in Canada and Canada helping Dutch Royal family. So thanks to this post, I now understand the Dutch-Canadian bond in greater depths.
Also, I must try Dutch stamppot this summer when I visit Amsterdam!))))
Glad I helped you understand the connection, Cynthia. Stamppot is good, but there are much better dishes to be found in A’dam (from around the world) if you ask me.
For me the historical context was very useful to understand the roots of the connections between the two countries. Indeed, Dutch people suffered a lot during the Nazi rule, for example the nation’s traditional Jewish community was among the first victims of the Final Solution. But as we learn from your post there were another catastrophes, which hit the civilian population hard. These facts help to recognize the importance of the Canadian-led liberation and the Canadian-Dutch relations as well.
Thank you for this insightful post. I’m from Montreal and never knew Canada and the Netherlands were bonded like that though I knew there was some interesting story behind all those tulips in Ottawa!
Fascinating! I never knew that Canada and the Netherlands shared such a connection. Sad to say American schools don’t teach that part in history classes. I’m excited to learn more about Holland’s past when I visit.
My father was stationed in Lahr, West Germany with the CDN army in the late ’70’s-early ’80’s. I remember every CDN went to Holland and brought back wooden clogs. I was too young to remember our visit there, unfortunately. My father has two(now completely green and hideous) tattoo’s that he got in Amsterdam in his early days(pre-marriage) in the military. I think some of his craziest army stories were from when he was on leave in Amsterdam :).
Tattoo art has improved in Amsterdam, but in my view all tattoos are hideous. After all, life is about change. And a tattoo is permanent. Surely anyone with imagination can find something else to attract attention and appear edgy. Of course, that advice went right over my son’s head when he got all tatted up years ago ;-(. Thanks to your dad for his service to the Dutch!
Most tattoos are awful. I wonder what these “sleeves” will look like on 80 year olds!
Nice to see this. I have long known about the special relationship between us and the Dutch but I know some don’t. There are lots of great videos on YT on this plus the very special Christmas Eve tradition at the war cemeteries! It started at the Canadian cemetery at Holten but has since spread to all the war cemeteries I hear now. As a Canadian, I always tell any Dutch person I talk to that we love them. 😉
Woops, I meant to share a video of the Christmas Eve tradition at the war cemeteries! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WHVb4Bd0EEA