Last month, Princess Margriet of the Netherlands presented Canadian Second World War veteran Don White a box filled with tulip bulbs renamed to mark the upcoming 75th anniversary of Holland’s liberation — and on Wednesday, he got to plant one of them in the ground in Ottawa.
White was a member of the Royal Canadian Dragoons, the regiment that liberated the Dutch town of Leeuwarden in April 1945, towards the end of a nine-month military campaign to free the Netherlands from German occupation.
Now 95 years old, and the last living member of his troop, White travelled from his home in Oshawa to the national capital to take part in a planting ceremony in Commissioners Park near Dow’s Lake on Wednesday afternoon.
“This completes the whole thing,” he said of the event.
About 100,000 of the special liberation bulbs are being planted by the National Capital Commission (NCC) in Ottawa, where they will bloom into large, bright orange tulips in time for the commemoration of Holland’s liberation on May 5, 2020 — and the Canadian Tulip Festival, one of Ottawa’s top attractions.
The festival itself was inspired by 100,000 tulip bulbs the Dutch royal family gifted to Canada in 1945 for harbouring them in Ottawa during the war, and the 20,000 bulbs that Holland and its royal family kept sending Canada every year after that.
“It’s wonderful to see that now, 75 years later, this tradition still continues in Ottawa,” said Henk van der Zwan, the Netherlands’ ambassador to Canada.
Asked why he believes the Dutch have continued to uphold that tradition for decades, van der Zwan replied: “More than 7,500 Canadians gave their lives in order to liberate my country.”
“They are buried in the Netherlands,” he said, wearing the tie of the Royal Canadian Dragoons. “We have these war graves. We see them every day and this leads us to remember the efforts that were made by the Canadians.”
“This is really something very, very special that we should not and will never forget.”
All in all, 1.1 million of the liberation bulbs have been shipped across Canada to honour the 1.1 million Canadians who served in the Second World War, according to the Canadian Tulip Festival. The Netherlands is gifting Canada 100,000 of them to mirror its inaugural gift.
White was 19 when his troop charged Leeuwarden, where van der Zwan was born 11 years later. The veteran said tulips, to him, remain a “symbol” of the Netherlands and his experiences there decades ago.
“It brings back memories,” he said.
White described one of his main memories as the “joy” the Dutch conveyed as they were freed from German occupation.
“They hardly knew how to express themselves,” said White. “They would be singing, they would be dancing. They’d be jumping up and down, they’d be crying, they’d be laughing. It was just something that’s hard to describe.”
This past spring, the Dutch prime minister named a different tulip in Holland after White, as a tribute to the veteran and his fellow Canadian soldiers who fought to liberate the Netherlands.
“I felt honoured but very humbled at the same time,” White said of the occasion.
As for the orange liberation tulips, the bulbs are being planted across Ottawa, according to Tina Liu, a landscape architect with the NCC who plans and designs the planting beds for the city’s annual tulip display, which will run from May 8-18 next year.
Most of the liberation tulips are being planted in the larger beds in Commissioners Park but others have been put in the planters at the National War Memorial near Parliament Hill and those that line Confederation Boulevard, Liu said.