Celebrating global ties with the Netherlands for Canada 150

by Jonathan McLeod

Tulips blooming in the St. Andrew’s Church garden symbolize Canada’s deep friendship with the Netherlands. Photo: rev. Andrew Johnston
Tulips blooming in the St. Andrew’s Church garden symbolize Canada’s deep friendship with the Netherlands.
Photo: rev. Andrew Johnston

“That day out of the darkness of war, a little child was certainly leading us,” wrote Reverend Ian Burnett on the baptism of Princess Margriet of the Netherlands on June 29, 1943.

Rev. Burnett was the minister at St. Andrew’s Church from 1943 to 1960 and assisted in the baptismal service of Princess Margriet at the church. The Dutch royal family’s time in Ottawa during World War II was a formative experience for the city and our two nations, and the birth and baptism of Princess Margriet was one of the few bright spots during this harrowing period of history.

St. Andrew’s is presenting Celebrating Global Ties: The Netherlands, a performance by Thomas Annand and invited guests of early and contemporary Dutch music to commemorate the joyous event of Princes Margriet’s baptism and celebrate the bonds between Ottawa and the Netherlands.

The free concert performance the evening of April 29 serves not only to remember the hope embodied in the wartime birth of a princess but also to enhance the experiences of children today. Donations will be accepted on behalf of Orkidstra, a program that empowers children and fosters social development through music.

Ottawa’s story cannot be told without speaking of the Netherlands. It would be difficult to conceive of the month of May in Ottawa without colourful tulips filling the Glebe’s Commissioners Park under the watchful eye of the Man with Two Hats monument, which is a replica of a Dutch statue that pays tribute to the liberation of the Netherlands and the connection of our two nations.

Each year, the Netherlands gifts thousands of tulip bulbs to Ottawa as a thank-you for our hospitality during World War II when the Dutch royal family fled to Canada after the Nazi invasion. It’s a lovely gesture that reinforces the bonds our countries formed during the depths of war.

The birth of Princess Margriet, third daughter of Queen Juliana, on January 19, 1943, was a particularly poignant moment during the royal family’s time in Ottawa. The room in the Civic Hospital in which she was born was temporarily declared to be extraterritorial by the Canadian government so that she wouldn’t be born on Canadian soil.

Princess Margriet was baptized at St. Andrew’s Church on June 29, 1943, the birthday of her father, Prince Bernhard. The service was broadcast live to Britain and relayed by the BBC throughout the Netherlands. This was a defining moment for the people of the Netherlands and the relationship between the Netherlands and Canada.

The birth and baptism of Princess Margriet is as significant to St. Andrew’s Church as the refuge of the royal family is to the city of Ottawa. St. Andrew’s was honoured to provide whatever comfort it could to the royal family, offering a temporary spiritual home in its pews as they found temporary residence in the city.

St. Andrew’s was established in 1828 and was the first Presbyterian Church in Ottawa. At the time, there was only a Roman Catholic and a Methodist church. Consequently, St. Andrew’s was granted the Glebe lands that would usually have been given to the local Anglican Church, had there been one.

Eventually, St. Andrew’s sold these lands that would become the basis for our neighbourhood. The Glebe would expand beyond the old glebe lands over the years, but as the name tells us, our neighbourhood grew out of this original plot given to the church.

The relationships born out of the machinations and quirks of history are amazing. It’s easy to see how we are connected to our families and neighbours – the people we see while shopping along Bank Street or attending an event at the Glebe Community Centre – but it can be harder to recognize the connections we have with people across an ocean, including an entire nation and their royal family.

There’s a mysterious, ethereal intimacy between Ottawa and the Netherlands, a country (I’d wager) most of us have never visited nor will ever visit. Despite this distance, both real and metaphorical, the relationship and the mythology persist.

Out of the terror of war, international community emerges. A family seeks refuge across an ocean, finds a temporary home and a baby girl is born and is a symbol of light and hope during desperate times. And every year this relationship truly blooms again.

Jonathan McLeod is a Glebe writer whose blog, Steps from the Canal, deals mostly with community and urban development.

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