A day of pride: Remembrance Day as a Dutch-Canadian

I am a Dutch-Canadian and proud of it. The legacy of being a second-generation Canadian comes out in everyday life.

I call my grandfather and grandmother Opa and Oma. I eat hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles) on toast for breakfast. I get presents at Christmas from both Santa Claus and Sinterklaas.

But on no day am I more proud of the country of my blood and the country of my birth than on Remembrance Day.

You may not know a lot about the specifics of the Second World War, but there is one detail I want to share. Following the hongerwinter (the hungry winter), it was Canadian soldiers who liberated the Netherlands and fed the starving population.

British, American and Polish soldiers were present too, but in the Western part of the country, that had the highest population density and that was hit the hardest by the long, cold winter with severe food shortages, it was the Canadians who were the heroes.

I grew up with an awareness of how much Canada meant to my immigrated relatives from physical proof of the war on their bodies. My Opa had scars on his legs from being attacked by dogs while acting with the Dutch Resistance.

A family friend used to terrify me as a child by shaking his head until his dentures flew out.

He was a pre-teen boy during the war; the malnutrition caused him to lose all of his teeth.

I heard about great-uncles being forced onto trains heading for German factories, only to escape as the train slowed to enter a town.

Smuggling food for hidden friends, evading German patrols in the countryside, surviving the bombing of Rotterdam, being accosted by Nazi collaborators; these stories from the mouths of the people I love are what Remembrance Day means to me.

During the 50th anniversary of victory and liberation in 1995, CBC was broadcasting an informal parade in Apeldoorn.

At one point, a woman stopped one of the vehicles, took her young son up to a veteran sitting in a Jeep, and told him that this was the man who was personally responsible for his freedom.

My father, who spoke only Dutch when he started school in Canada, said it best when he described his confusion: was he a proud Canadian watching a Dutch person thanking the Canadian veteran, or a Dutchman proud of the fact that we recognized our debt to Canada?

On Remembrance Day, I do not have this same conflict of identity. But I know, while watching the parades, that these men and women are each personally responsible for the lives and freedom of those I love.

On an exchange in Amsterdam last year, I had the chance to participate in the Dutch side of remembrance and celebration.

I stood silently in the crowds in Dam Square, Amsterdam for the Remembrance of the Dead ceremonies of May 4. And I cheered with the crowds on the much-more upbeat remembrance on May 5, when they celebrate the liberation of their country with parades and concerts.

I travelled to Wageningen, the city where the Germans in the Netherlands surrendered.

While waiting for the parade to start, I saw an older man beside me give two young boys little Canadian flags to wave.

During the parade, young Dutch women on their apartment balconies were blowing kisses to the soldiers passing by on restored tanks and Jeeps, an allusion to the joy felt when the troops marched in for the first time.

Over 7,500 Canadians died liberating the Netherlands, along with Polish, American and British soldiers.

Even if you and those you love have never experienced anything other than freedom, celebrate Remembrance Day with the knowledge that these veterans brought freedom to those who did not have it.

Standing in a crowd, waving a flag, wearing a poppy, I cannot thank them enough.