“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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.