On June 2nd, 1940, a small convoy of three Dutch navy ships which had escaped from the Netherlands during the battle for Holland, stealthily sailed from a small naval base in Southwest Wales. On board one of them were Princess Juliana, her two tiny daughters and a small entourage of adjutants and ladies-in-waiting. The crossing was not without danger. German U-boats were prevalent along the route that the small convoy took to Canada. After nine days, the ships docked safely in Halifax, and a five-year exile in Canada began.
It took a year until Juliana’s husband Prince Bernhard managed to come over from England for a visit, and Juliana promptly became pregnant. If the baby were born on Canadian soil, it would become a ‘Canadian National’ and ‘British Subject’ and be subject to Canadian law. This would result in unknown consequences and complications and was to be avoided. The Canadian government in the spirit of goodwill between the two allies issued a proclamation declaring in effect that wherever in Canada Juliana gave birth, that place would be considered extraterritorial, and the baby would not automatically become a Canadian national. The ‘place’ turned out to be a room in the Civic Hospital in Ottawa, where a baby girl was born on January 19th, 1943.
The baby girl was named ‘Margriet’, a common Dutch flower of the genus Leucanthemum, known in English as the ‘ox-eye daisy’ or ‘common daisy’. The flower was a symbol of the Dutch resistance, and the intention was to create a deep bond between the Dutch people and the foreign-born princess.
It was not until August 4th, 1945, that the then two-and-a-half-year-old princess would first set foot in her true homeland. Princess Juliana would always remember the hospitality she had received in Canada and said “My baby will always be a link with Canada. Not only for my own family, but for the Netherlands.” And true to her mother’s word, Princess Margriet has always felt a strong connection to the land of her birth and has established a reputation as being ‘Canada’s Princess’.
Nevertheless, it would be twenty-three years before she returned to Canada. In 1967 Margriet married Pieter van Vollenhoven, a fellow alumnus of Leiden University where the two had met. In 1968, it was time for Margriet to return to the land of her birth, to show her new husband where she was born and to reacquaint herself with the area in which she had spent the first two happy years of her life, far from the dangers and deprivations of war-torn Europe.
Margriet immediately loved Canada and its people. She returned in 1970 with a visit to the Arctic north, and more than ten visits to Canada followed in the subsequent years.
As can be imagined, Princess Margriet is always warmly welcomed by the Dutch immigrants to Canada and their descendants. On a more recent visit to Canada, in May 2017, she went to Holland Christian Homes, a large retirement complex in Brampton, on the outskirts of Toronto. In 1983, Princess Margriet was on hand to perform a ground-breaking ceremony for an expansion. She returned in 2017 to perform the same ceremony for yet another expansion. During an address to the residents, she said: “The ties binding our two countries are strong and lasting, they have grown over time and continue to do so. A tangible token of our gratitude are the tulips that bloom every spring in Ottawa!” She was referring to the Canadian Tulip Festival, which was initiated by Queen Juliana in 1953. Princess Margriet, the Dutch princess born in an extra-territorial hospital room in Canada’s capital Ottawa symbolizes those ties better than anyone else.
She also said: “I think Canada is a beautiful country. I think the people are extraordinarily kind and welcoming. It is a country that I really love very much and where I feel at home.” Her husband, Pieter van Vollenhoven, joked as they left Holland Christian Homes: “There is a room for us here.” And I am sure he can rest assured, should he need it, there would certainly be one ready for him, just like there was a room for his wife-to-be, born in an Ottawa hospital room all those years ago, during the darkest days of Holland’s history.
For an extended version of this article, read Tom Bijvoet's book Hiding in Plain Sight, or Issue 38 of Dutch the magazine.
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