“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 after 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.