Canadian Princess. Queen of the Canadian WWII Veterans. Princess Margriet of the Netherlands, born on January 1943 in Ottawa's Civic Hospital and therefore 65 on Saturday, is many things to many people. But Canada is close to her heart, she reveals in an unique television documentary to be broadcast in the Netherlands on Friday evening.
,,Ik houd heel erg van Canada", Princess Margriet says. "I love Canada very very much. I love the people, it is a wonderful country. Of course, here in the Netherlands we lack space, we have so little space. And Canada, well it is tremendous how much space there is. And that has an influence on the character of the Canadians (...)"
Princess Margriet was born while the Dutch royal family was living in exile. Queen Wilhelmina stayed in London, UK, with Margriet's father Prince Bernhard at her side, and the princesses Juliana, Beatrix and Irene stayed in Ottawa. Their host was the Governor-General, the Earl of Athlone and his wife Princess Alice - an aunt of Princess Juliana.
The Canadian government decided that the place of birth of the royal baby should be extraterritorial, so that the child would technically be born in the Netherlands. A special proclamation to that effect was published in The Canada Gazette/La Gazette du Canada of December 26, 1942.
One day after the announcement of the birth of a healthy baby girl, the carillion of the Peace Tower of the Canadian Parliament Buildings rang out Dutch songs and the Dutch national anthem. And for one day a foreign flag was hoisted over the tower, the Dutch tricolour. Prince Bernhard had also requested a gun salute, but Canadian wartime regulations forbade the use of guns for that purpose.
The names chosen for the little Princess carried a special meaning. Margriet ('daisy') was to remind the Dutch of the month of May, when this flower blossoms - the month in which the German invasion and occupation started in 1940. But the name was also meant to give a glimmer of hope, explained Queen Wilhelmina. And the second name, Francisca, meant 'Liberty'.
Princess Margriet only lived in Canada till August 1945. ,,There is little I remember. The things I know come from stories other people told me and from pictures", she has said of her time at 541 Acacia Avenue in the Rockcliffe Park neighbourhood of the Canadian capital.
Present day Canadians know the house all too well as Stornoway, the official residence of the Leader of the Opposition. Princess Margriet last visited the house in May 2005, when Stephen Harper was her host.
The ceremony and service were held in St Andrews Church in Ottawa. A Dutch navy chaplain and minister of the Reformed Church on Staten Island in New York, Rev. Winfield Burggraaf, led the service, which was mostly in Dutch.
Royal Canadian Pacific offered Princess Margriet and her husband Pieter van Vollenhoven - they married in 1967 - a trip to Canada as their wedding present. They waited till the next year, after the birth of Prince Maurits in April 1968, to travel to Margriet's land of birth.
From that day on Canada became a second home", the Princess has said on several occasions. "I feel a very strong bond with Canada and it is becoming stronger as I grow older. You want to return to the place you were born." With her husband she has travelled the length and width of Canada, including a daring husky-expedition with the Inuit.
,,It is very important that we continue to show gratitude to those who liberated us, who came all the way to Europe, that we continue to respect them and keep them in high regard for peace and liberty come at a price", Princess Margriet says in the tv-programme.
Princess Margriet and her husband - their youngest son, Prince Floris, is godson of the Royal Canadian Legion - never miss a special commemoration for the Canadian Veterans, be it in Apeldoorn or elsewhere in Holland, or in Canada. In 2005 they visited Montréal and Ottawa once again to honour the Veterans and to again say, even sixty years after the end of the war, "Thank you Canada!".
© Royalblog, Hans Jacobs; Photos: © GPD & Capital Photos
* More on this topic in the booklet 'When Canada was home" by Albert Vander Mey. To order click here.
The editor and writer of Royalblog.nl covered the 2005 Tour of the Princess to Canada, and participated in the 1995 'airbridge Toronto-Amsterdam' to bring back the Canadians veterans for a visit to the Netherlands. Part of the journalism studies was a stint at l'Université de Laval in Québec. (HJ)