The Gift of Tulips
In 1945, Canadian troops participated in the liberation of the Netherlands. Today, Canadians and the Dutch recall these historic events and celebrate the lasting bonds that were created between their countries half a century ago.
Dutch Princess Finds Refuge in Canada
On May 10, 1940, without warning, and despite repeated protests from the Dutch affirming their neutrality, the German Army crossed the border of the Netherlands. Within days, thousands were dead, the invaders held most of the cities, and the important roads and bridges, and the Netherlands capitulated.
Following the invasion of the Netherlands, one of the key objectives was to capture the Dutch Royal Family. Having fled to temporary safety in England, which was itself facing invasion in 1940, Queen Wilhelmina decided to send the Crown Princess to safety in Canada.
In early June 1940, Princess Juliana and her two small daughters secretly boarded a Dutch vessel bound for Halifax. After a long sea voyage, they moved into a rented house in Rockcliffe, Ontario. Safe in the Ottawa region, Princess Juliana was able to take over the reins of government-in-exile if the need arose.
The birth of Princess Margriet Francisca, the third daughter of Princess Juliana and Prince Bernhard, was a symbol of hope and a source of inspiration for the Dutch people who were fighting for their survival in Europe. The only royal baby ever born in North America, her birth created a living bond between the people of Canada and the Netherlands.
To ensure the baby’s Dutch citizenship, the Canadian government temporarily ceded a room at the Ottawa Civic Hospital to the Netherlands. Princess Margriet was therefore born a Dutch citizen on Dutch soil on January 19, 1943.
The name given to the new princess means “daisy,” a flower chosen by Queen Wilhelmina as a symbol of resistance and hope in the Netherlands. The birth of the princess rekindled the Dutch determination, although manifestations of joy were harshly suppressed by the occupiers.
Queen Wilhelmina and Prince Bernhard made the dangerous trip to Canada to attend the baptism of Princess Margriet. Together again, the Royal Family enjoyed a brief period of happiness.
Princess Margriet was baptized at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Ottawa on June 29, 1943. The church was filled with Canadian dignitaries, including Prime Minister Mackenzie King. Lord Athlone, Governor General of Canada, and Martine Roëll, lady-in-waiting and companion in exile to Princess Juliana, attended the baptism as godparents. Symbolizing an international alliance, the Princess’ multiple godparents also included Queen Mary, the wife of King George V, and American President Roosevelt.
In many ways, Princess Juliana lived an ordinary life in Ottawa. Like so many Canadian women, her husband was serving in the war, and she knitted for the soldiers. She also volunteered in a second-hand store set up to raise money for the war effort.
In other ways, however, the Princess’s lifestyle was quite different. She was in constant contact with her mother and husband in England. As her mother’s representative, she acted as her people’s ambassador, travelling in Canada, the United States and the Netherlands Antilles, visiting military troops and generating support for the war effort.
Meanwhile, the daily life of the little princesses resembled that of other Canadian children. Princesses Beatrix and Irene attended the Rockcliffe Park public school and played with their friends.
The Liberation of the Netherlands
The Nazi police force set out to break the spirit of Dutch civilians through a campaign of terror. Civilians were shot in the streets by the hundreds. Those who resisted by spying, hiding Jews or publishing underground newspapers were arrested, tortured and sent to concentration camps.
By April 28, German military leaders knew that the end was near. A truce was negotiated and food began to reach the starving civilian population. General Johannes Blaskowitz, commander of the occupation forces, surrendered to Lieutenant-General Foulkes of the 1st Canadian Army Corps on May 5, 1945. The war in the Netherlands is finally over.
In early May, Queen Wilhelmina and Princess Juliana returned to the Netherlands. The little Princesses, Beatrix, Irene and Margriet, joined their parents later in the summer of 1945.
After five years in hiding, the red, white and blue national flag reappeared in the towns and villages of the Netherlands, as did the orange banners of the House of Orange.
By the thousands, Canadian soldiers laid down their arms and began to rebuild houses, dikes and bridges. Canadian military physicians attended to civilians and many troops provided help to the population so cruelly affected by the war.
Seven thousand Canadian soldiers had died in the campaign to liberate the Netherlands, and the Dutch were eager to show their gratitude. Children gathered wildflowers to place on the graves of fallen soldiers.
As the guns fell silent, romance blossomed amid the ruins and lasting bonds were formed between Canadians and the Dutch people. Many of these romances ended in marriage. The Canadian government paid the passage to Canada for more than 1,800 Dutch war brides and some 400 children.
Tulips — Symbol of Friendship
Once the war had ended, the people of the Netherlands and Princess Juliana sent the Canadian people many magnificent gifts, including 100,000 tulip bulbs to Canada’s Capital in gratitude for the involvement of Canadian troops in the liberation. In 1946, Princess Juliana herself gave 20,000 additional bulbs to the country that had given her refuge.
These gestures of gratitude were destined to transform the Canadian Capital. Since 1958, the annual gift of 10,000 tulip bulbs from the royal family has been matched by a donation from the Dutch Bulb Growers Association. This year is the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands, which marked the beginning of an enduring friendship between Canada and the Netherlands.
As well as being the guardian of the tulip bulbs offered each year, the NCC also buys thousands of bulbs annually. Today, close to a million tulips bloom every spring in Canada’s Capital Region. The tulips are therefore very important, not only because they provide a unique display in spring, but also because they symbolize an international friendship.
Queen Juliana, who introduced the tradition of the gift of tulips, died on March 20, 2004, at the age of 94. Her death saddened not only the people of the Netherlands, but also Canadians, with whom she had maintained a very special friendship. The Dutch royal family announced its desire to continue the tradition in memory of the late Queen. This annual gift of tulips strengthens the bond between the Netherlands and Canada.
|This is my neighbour and friend Jim Gibb being thanked by Queen Beatrix in 2005 at VE Day Remembrance Ceremonies. I sincerely hope you are able to read the article.|
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