Carl Kolonsky was just 20 years old when he arrived in Belgium in 1944. It was late October when he joined the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry. The Canadian soldier was in the Netherlands six months on as German forces surrendered there on May 5, 1945.
Now, 75 years later, many commemorative events were planned to mark the date.
According to a story on Island Health’s website, Kolonsky, now 95, had been invited to attend two previous anniversary events in the Netherlands, but had been unable to attend. So he was looking forward to the trip this May, when he was to be a special guest of the Dutch. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the trip and events were cancelled.
“Unfortunately, COVID stepped in the way,” said Kolonsky’s son Don. “He is one of the handful that was going to go.”
Then, to make matters worse, Kolonsky had a fall last month, which sent him to the Campbell River hospital for hip replacement surgery and recovery.
Shortly after his fall, Kolonsky received some mail from Ottawa. It was a Certificate of Recognition signed by Minister of Veteran Affairs Lawrence MacAulay.
“On behalf of a grateful nation, we present this Certificate to Carl Kolonsky as a tribute to your selfless acts of service and sacrifice during the Second World War, in defence of Canada and our shared values of freedom, democracy and the rule of law,” it reads.
Due to heightened visitor protocols, Kolonsky and Don have only been able to meet over the phone. But Don thought the certificate might help raise his father’s spirits. So he contacted Island Health and that’s when hospital site director Christina Rozema got involved.
Her own father-in-law was just 10 when Canadians liberated his region in the north of the Netherlands.
“He always talked about how amazing that time was, when they traded eggs for cigarettes and chocolate,” she said. “He laughed when he needed hospital care. He’d say, ‘that’s fair, the Canadians gave me cigarettes, so the Canadians now can look after me.’”
Rozema and a handful of other staff with Dutch heritage gathered in Kolonsky’s room to deliver the certificate in a special small ceremony, which is highlighted on Island Health’s website.
“It was an amazing thing you did,” Rozema said as she presented the certificate to him. “Understand how grateful people are, and how pleased I am to be able to give you that certificate today.”
“It’s such a pleasure to hear from you people,” said Kolonsky. “Thank you very much.”
Don said that his father is disappointed the trip couldn’t happen this year, but they’re optimistic that if all goes well, it’ll only be a postponement.
Local Dutch community member Pieter Koeleman echoed the sentiment.
“I’ve known Carl for a long time,” he said. “Every time we had a commemoration, he was there. This year he was going to the Netherlands, so it was a disappointment to hear it was cancelled.”
He joined the group of staff just outside the hospital’s entrance, where they unfurled a Dutch and a Canadian flag to signify the special relationship between the two nations.
Ingrid van Kesteren, manager of transition and support, has family from the Netherlands. She’s heard plenty of stories from her parents about the occupation and liberation.
“I’ve always really appreciated looking after people who fought in the Netherlands in the Canadian Army, because then I had an opportunity to say thank you in person, like we did today,” she said.
“It’s a privilege and I’m really grateful, because the country would have been so different and our futures would have been completely different if the country had not been liberated.”
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