70 years of tulips: Netherlands' King, Queen make first state visit to Canada
Published Wednesday, May 27, 2015 1:04PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, May 27, 2015 5:31PM EDT
Netherlands' King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima arrived in Ottawa Wednesday to kick off a three-day state visit to Canada.
The trip is another gesture of goodwill between the two countries that have been close friends since the Second World War.
Willem-Alexander and Maxima toured Parliament Hill on Wednesday, where they met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and laid a wreath at the National War Memorial.
The official state visit to Canada is the first for King Willem-Alexander, who assumed the throne in 2013 after his mother, Queen Beatrix, abdicated the position. He is in Canada at the official invitation of Gov. Gen. David Johnston.
Willem-Alexander and Maxima’s have travelled to Canada as part of the festivities for the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Holland, when Canadian troops helped drive the Nazis out of the country at the end of the Second World War.
The royal couple will travel to Waterloo, Ont., on Thursday to announce 70 new scholarships for Canadian students to study in the Netherlands, as part of a Dutch push to develop stronger academic ties with Canada.
They will wrap up their tour in Toronto on Friday, where they will visit the provincial legislature at Queen's Park, before heading to the United States.
Several Dutch cabinet ministers are also along for the visit. They're expected to meet with Canadian officials to discuss foreign policy, trade and education issues.
Willem-Alexander, 48, and Maxima, 44, are the second-youngest royal couple in Europe, behind recently-crowned King Felipe VI of Spain and his wife, Letizia.
Robert Jan van Pelt, a cultural historian at the University of Waterloo, told CTV News Channel that Dutch monarchs feel they have an "obligation" to visit Canada early in their reign.
"Some 8,000 Canadian soldiers died to liberate the country, so I think there is a very authentic and very deep bond between these two countries because of their shared history," van Pelt said.
The Canada-Netherlands "best friends forever" relationship dates back to the early days of the Second World War when the Dutch royal family fled the German invasion of the Netherlands to England.
Van Pelt says that they considered the country to be too "dangerous" and Queen Wilhelmina sent Willem-Alexander's mother and grandmother, Beatrix and Juliana, to live in Ottawa with other members of the royal family. The royals lived in Canada for five years, during which time they resided at Stornoway, the traditional home of the Official Opposition.
Canada made every effort to accommodate the Dutch royals during their stay. In 1943, for instance, Canada temporarily declared the maternity ward at Ottawa Civic Hospital to be extraterritorial. The move allowed then-Princess Juliana's daughter, Margriet, to become a Dutch citizen at birth, rather than automatically being declared Canadian because she was born on Canadian soil.
Canada’s efforts to liberate the Netherlands from Nazi occupation are also fondly remembered. The First Canadian Army was responsible for defeating the Nazis in Holland in May of 1945.
"The historical relationship from 1945 is incredibly sentimental," said Van Pelt. "Every year, Canadian veterans go back to the Netherlands and they are always welcomed as heroes, and rightly so."
The Dutch royals returned home that same month, and a grateful Princess Juliana sent Canada 100,000 tulip bulbs as a gesture of thanks. She became Queen three years later and sent tulip bulbs to Canada every May during her reign, which prompted the start of the now-annual Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa.
Many of the bulbs were planted at Ottawa Civic Hospital to commemorate the birth of Margriet.
King Willem-Alexander's state visit is the first by a Dutch monarch since May of 1988, when his mother, Queen Beatrix, came to Ottawa for the Canadian Tulip Festival. Queen Juliana also visited Canada in May of 1967.