The 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands during the Second World War will be celebrated on Vancouver Island and across the country today. Quietly.
With Canadian forces playing such a vital role in the liberation of the Dutch people, war veterans from across the country have been attending ceremonies in the Netherlands to mark the occasion on May 5 every year for decades.
But, with the COVID-19 crisis causing the cancellation of the ceremonies this year, preparations are underway here to find different ways to mark the occasion.
In Duncan, a small gathering of less than five people will commemorate the occasion at the cenotaph, located in Charles Hoey Park.
Greg Sumner, who is a volunteer chaplain for the Cowichan Valley’s Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 53, and George Brewster, a Canadian war veteran who fought to liberate the Netherlands, had been invited by Veterans Affairs Canada to attend the Dutch ceremonies this year before the trip was canceled due to the pandemic.
Sumner said he was contacted by a Dutch couple, Hans and Atty Terpstra, who had emigrated to the Cowichan Valley, and they expressed their wish to place tulips at Duncan’s cenotaph on May 5 in a ceremony, but were concerned that gatherings of no more of five people are currently allowed.
Tulips are the traditional way for the Netherlands to thank Canada for its help in the war after the Dutch royal family sent 100,000 tulip bulbs to Ottawa in 1945 in gratitude for the Canadians who fought to liberate the country, and for Canada having sheltered the future Queen Juliana and her family during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.
“There’s little pockets of people from the Netherlands living in the Valley,” Sumner said.
“One gentleman, 85-year-old Gabor Szamosi, currently has tulips growing all over his yard after he bought a lot of tulip bulbs during the legion’s fundraiser last year.”
Sumner said the Terpstras, Brewster and himself will be the only attendees at the ceremony on May 5 at the cenotaph.
“But we were hoping that, while there will be just four of us at the ceremony, that people may want to place tulips on their own at the cenotaph on May 4 and May 5 before the ceremony to help us honour the Canadians who helped free the Netherlands,” he said.
Meanwhile, some very special tulips commemorating the historic milestone, are in full bloom in gardens throughout the Comox Valley.
The beautiful red Canadian Liberator tulips celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Liberation of the Netherlands (May 5, 1945), which was the catalyst for the end of the Second World War.
The unconditional surrender of all German forces on the continent followed two days later (May 7). The next day, May 8, 1945, was declared Victory in Europe (V-E) Day.
Branches throughout the BC/Yukon Command of the Royal Canadian Legion participated in a tulip-planting initiative in October, to prepare for the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Liberation of the Netherlands, as well as to honour the 1.1 million Canadians who served during the Second World War.
Approximately 1,000 bulbs were planted at Simms Park, the Native Sons Hall and the Courtenay Legion by City of Courtenay staff and members of the Courtenay Legion.
The tulip has become a symbol of friendship between the Netherlands and Canada. Liberation75 celebrates the shared history between the two countries and the role that Canadian soldiers played in liberating the Netherlands.
As part of the initiative, more than 1.1 million bulbs were planted at schools across Canada. Many of these special bulbs were also planted in home gardens within the Comox Valley. The Courtenay Legion sold bulb packs in October, with proceeds from the sales being used to support veterans and their families in the Comox Valley.
While a planned candlelight tribute for this momentous event was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Legion encourages everyone to remember this occasion by visiting the local tulip displays.