Deep-rooted friendship

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 May, 2006, 12:00am

The birth of a princess here in 1943 still brings tulips into bloom across the city every May. With the tulips come concerts, art shows, children's events, a flotilla on the canal, a festival of lights and a range of other activities that are part of the 19-day Canadian Tulip Festival.

All of this was inspired by a gift of 100,000 tulip bulbs to the City of Ottawa from Princess Juliana of Holland in 1945. Evacuated after the Nazi invasion, the princess spent most of the war years here. Residents loved her unpretentious lifestyle. She sent her children to public school, did her own shopping, and babysat for her neighbour's children.

When it came time to give birth to her third child, she was taken to the Civic Hospital. The Canadian government passed a law that allowed her room to be considered Dutch territory so the child, Princess Margriet, would have exclusively Dutch nationality and, therefore, be eligible to succeed her mother.

A year later, after the D-Day landings, Canadian troops were tasked with confronting the German army in Holland. Thousands of Canadian soldiers died in bloody battles waged to liberate the country. They were wildly cheered and feted when they rolled into Amsterdam and other cities, which had been plundered by the Nazis. People were starving and the Canadians organised emergency food drops.

Princess Juliana was flown back to Holland after the liberation and, to express her gratitude to her friends in Ottawa, shipped 100,000 bulbs to the city, and another 20,500 the following year. Officials planted them in green spaces and created a festival to commemorate her gift.

There have been warm relations between Canada and Holland ever since. There was, therefore, a roar of outrage across the Netherlands last week when an elderly Canadian veteran wearing his beret and medals on his way to Arnhem to commemorate Liberation Day was treated rudely by a train conductor and fined for having the wrong ticket.

The veteran explained he had mistakenly bought a ticket for a different destination. But the conductor was having none of it, according to other passengers. They wrote to a national newspaper to complain, which triggered fierce condemnations in Dutch papers.

'Apparently, the conductor was unaware of our liberation by Canadians,' one Dutchman wrote. The railway company called it all a misunderstanding, its spokesman insisting the fine should not have been paid.

In the meantime, a search is under way to identify the veteran so an apology can be delivered. It was just a contretemps, but a vivid illustration of the feelings of friendship still in bloom between the Dutch and Canadians.