On a sunny afternoon, among the turned up soil of the gardens in the Lest We Forget Memorial Park in Lacombe, community members gathered for the 70th Anniversary Dutch Canadian Friendship Tulip Garden ceremony.
Where seasonal flowers were once planted by City staff, now will be home to 700 tulips. The planting of the springtime flower, both in red and white blooms, is to commemorate the long lasting friendship that developed between Canada and the Netherlands during the Second World War.
Students from Lacombe Christian School, Parkview Adventist Academy, members of the Royal Canadian Legion Lacombe Branch No. 79, special guests and dignitaries gathered for the special occasion on Oct. 21st.
The event was kicked off first by a singing of O Canada, followed by City of Lacombe Mayor Steve Christie’s recount of the beginning of the friendship between the two countries.
“It began in 1940 with the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands,” he said. “The invasion necessitated the escape of Queen Wilhelmina and the Dutch royal family to the U.K. In May of that same year, 1940, where they continued to rule in exile. A month after their arrival, Princess Juliana left for Canada with her two daughters, Princess Beatrix and Princess Irene.”
The royals stayed in Ottawa for five years and Juliana even gave birth to her third daughter Princess Margriet in the Ottawa Civic Hospital in 1943.
“The hospital was declared extraterritorial by the Government of Canada to ensure the newborn princess would have Dutch nationality in order to preserve her status in the line of succession for the throne,” said Christie. “So with the news of the birth, the Dutch flag was flown on the Peace Tower and her birth became a symbol of hope to the Dutch people.”
After the royal family’s eventual return to the Netherlands in 1945, Queen Wilhelmina sent Canada 100,000 tulip bulbs. The gift became an annual one and has now inspired the Dutch Canadian Friendship Tulip Garden concept across the nation, 70 years later.
This period during the Second World War was what ultimately forged the close friendship between Canada and the Netherlands – the gratitude of the Dutch royal family from their stay in Canada, partnered with the role the Canadian Forces played in the liberation of the Netherlands.
“Today, citizens of Lacombe are honoured to receive this gift of red and white tulips,” said Christie. “We are very fortunate to be able to do this, on marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands and the continued enduring tradition of friendship between the Netherlands and Canada.”
Royal Canadian Legion Lacombe Branch No. 79 President Susan Churchill spoke of the major role Canadian troops played in the liberation of the Netherlands in the Second World War.
“In the final months of the Second World War, Canadian Forces were given the important and deadly task of liberating the Netherlands from Nazi occupation,” she said.
From September 1944 to April 1945, the Canadian Army fought the German forces, attempting to open the ports to allow food and other supplies to reach the Dutch people. By Nov. 28th, the first convoy of cargo ships entered the Port of Antwerp.
“More than 7,600 Canadian soldiers, sailors and airman died fighting in the Netherlands,” said Churchill. “Canadians are fondly remembered by the Dutch as both liberators and saviours who rescued millions from sickness and starvation in 1945. They are our grandfathers, fathers, brothers, grandmothers, mothers, sisters, neighbours and heroes. Canadian veterans, their courage, service and sacrifice have kept us strong, proud and free.”
The ceremony was then followed by the planting of the bulbs themselves. The students were joined by Legion members who one by one, got down on their knees to gently press the bulbs into the soil.
For the students, the planting was a way to get their hands dirty and interact directly with history. For Legion members, many who are veterans, planting the bulbs was seen as evidence of the long lasting friendship between the two nations and an acknowledgement of what was fought for in the Second World War.
Lacombe was one of 140 communities in Canada to be gifted with a tulip garden.
City of Lacombe Planner Jennifer Kirchner said it was important to commemorate the significant connection between the two countries. She was one of the organizers behind the project, who initially applied for the garden on behalf of the City.
“I was approached by a few community members about the project,” she said. “Communities from all over applied, but it came down to which communities had enough space to plant 700 tulips.”
The strategic location of garden, in the Lest We Forget Memorial Park, also contributed to Lacombe being chosen as one of the communities. In receiving the gift of the bulbs, the City had to agree to hold a planting ceremony, which would involved veterans and students.
A blooming ceremony will be held in the spring. An exhibit will also be debuted at the Flatiron Museum and Interpretive Centre regarding Dutch immigration around the same time.