Why Dutchies Love the Canadians

“Our bilateral relationship has a rich heritage based on Canada’s storied role in liberating this country during the Second World War.” ~ James Lambert, Canadian Ambassador to the Netherlands

A Canadian soldier shows a Dutch woman photos from home—evidence of the friendly relationship between Canadian soldiers, welcomed as liberators, and Dutch civilians. Photo credit:  Bibliothèque et Archives Canada / PA-136320
Toward the end of WWII, Dutch civilians saw Canadians as liberators. Photo credit:
Bibliothèque et Archives Canada / PA-136320

Canadians are popular in Holland. Ask any Dutchie over a certain age. They’re the ones most likely to recall that Canadian troops liberated Holland from the nasty German boot at the end of World War II. During the Nazi occupation, Canada also hosted the Dutch Royal Family in its capital city, Ottawa—now an unexpected hub of culture, history and gastronomy with a farm-to-table emphasis.

Sleep behind bars at Hi-Ottawa-Jail.
Sleep behind bars at HI-Ottawa-Jail. Photo credit: HI-International

Like the Dutch Royals, I was treated like a princess in Ottawa. My post-TBEX field trip with seven fellow travel bloggers was finely choreographed by Ottawa Tourism’s energetic Director of Communications, Jantine Van Kregten. We set out in business class on VIA Rail, traveling in style from Toronto to Ottawa. After four hours of chit-chat, cocktails, dinner, wine and palm reading by our congenial steward, we arrived at the historic Fairmont Château Laurier, a landmark built in 1912 in the style of a 16th-century French castle. Two nights later, we landed in jail…or what’s left of Carleton County Gaol before Hostelling International turned it into HI Ottawa-Jail. The stone and brick edifice is not for the faint-of-heart, with authentic jail cells that double as dorm-style accommodations. If you’ve ever wanted to call home to say, “Hi Mom, I’m in jail,” stay at this funky hostel.

In addition to being on Canada's nat'l flag, the Maple Leaf symbolizes Canada's nature and environment since the 18th century.
The Maple Leaf has symbolized Canada since the 18th century.

Over four days in the Canadian capital, I learned how Holland and Canada are connected beyond upscale and unusual places to stay. The deepest bond was forged after the Dutch Royal Family’s exile following the 1940 bombing of Rotterdam. Three years later, Princess Margriet was born in Ottowa Civic Hospital. To protect Queen Juliana’s third daughter’s Dutch citizenship, Canada disclaimed the territory temporarily so the princess would not be Canadian by birth. The Dutch flag flew over the Canadian Parliament Building on January 19, 1943 to commemorate the new royal—the only time a foreign flag has flown over Canada’s capitol.

Holland’s sweetest spring arrived in 1945 after Canadian troops assisted by U.S., Polish and French forces liberated the country 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 populated areas were cut off from food supplies. Today, Bevrijdingsdag (Liberation Day) is celebrated annually in Holland on May 5 to commemorate the end of Nazi occupation.

2014 marks the 62nd Canadian Tulip Festival, celebrating the Dutch-Canadian connection. Photo credit: Ottawa Tourism
2014 marks the 62nd Canadian Tulip Festival, celebrating the Dutch-Canadian connection. Photo credit: Ottawa Tourism

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 in Dutch eyes. 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.

Marijuana or Maple Leaves? Depends on the country!

Beyond tulips, there are other connections between Dutch and Canadian cultures. Both place a heavy emphasis on leaves. Both Dutchies and Canadians favor dishes made with potatoes, e.g. Dutch stamppot, frites with mayo and Canadian poutine. And neither culture takes itself too seriously, as evidenced by noon yoga on Parliament Hill on Wednesdays in Ottawa and crazy street parties throughout the year in Amsterdam.

Down Dog anyone? Head for Yoga on Parliament Hill, noon on Wednesdays in Ottawa.
Down Dog anyone? Head for Yoga on Parliament Hill, at noon on Wednesdays in Ottawa.


  1. 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! 😀


  2. 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.


    • 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! 🙂


  3. 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.


  4. 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!


  5. 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.


  6. 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.


  7. 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!


  8. 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.


  9. 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!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s