The Dutch national anthem, followed by O Canada, sounded at the De Dutch restaurant at Canada Place on April 30, where more than one hundred people gathered. Some of them wore orange scarves or ties. It was Queen’s Day, one of the most popular holidays in the Netherlands, and Dutch Vancouverites celebrated at the vin d’honneur organized by the Netherlands consulate-general.
This event serves as an example that the Dutch community in Vancouver is alive and well. Among the things that unite this group are soccer, their language and the national colour orange – the last name of the royal family is ‘of Orange-Nassau.’
“You see, [the Dutch] unite at the moments where they can wear orange [like] Queen’s Day, [or] when the national soccer team is playing”, says Paul van Rhijn, deputy consul general for the Netherlands.
This year, Queen’s Day was even more special for the Dutch community, as Queen Beatrix – who lived in Ottawa as a little girl during the Second World War – abdicated in favour of her son, crown prince Willem-Alexander. He becomes the country’s first king since 1890. According to Edie Bijdemast, president of the Netherlands Association Je Maintiendrai (NAJM), this moment had been greatly anticipated by a Dutch community that generally admires the royal family.
Honouring the past
The NAJM honoured the royal family with a gala on May 5, another Dutch holiday called Liberation Day that is considered important among many Dutch Canadians, especially those of the older generation. Canadian troops helped liberate parts of the Netherlands in 1944-1945.
Many older Dutch Canadians were children when they immigrated to Canada in the 1950s and 1960s. With the older generation slowly disappearing, the NAJM is suffering from declining membership. The club is now trying to attract the younger generation, keeping traditions and the community alive. The NAJM organizes bike rides in the summer, weekly coffee clubs in many Lower Mainland municipalities and several family activities throughout the year. There is also a Dutch choir, a Dutch library opening its doors in New Westminster, TV station Tulip TV, a magazine in English and a newspaper in Dutch.
De Dutch in Canada
Retired French teacher Marion Stroet is an active member of the Dutch community. Born in Manitoba, she married Bill, a Dutch man who came to Canada when he was eight. Stroet learned Dutch and became interested in Dutch culture. She wears orange to Dutch events such as bike rides and serves stamppot – a dish with mashed potatoes, vegetables and smoked sausage – at home and at potlucks with Canadian friends.
“We’re part of a community, and even though I’m not Dutch, I feel part of that community,” she says.
But through her husband, she knows that it was not easy for immigrants. Many Dutch Canadians who arrived as children or teenagers did not want to stand out as different in a new country and worked hard to become Canadian as soon as possible.
For Bijdemast, whose parents immigrated when she was five, it wasn’t until later in life that she became interested in her Dutch heritage and learned to speak Dutch. When at age 33 she first visited the country of her birth, she felt a sense of belonging. That belonging also defines the Dutch community in Vancouver, according to Bijdemast. She says the Dutch have gezelligheid, a term that loosely translates to ‘conviviality.’
“Although I find Dutch people really integrate here just seamlessly, they still seem to long for this gezelligheid, that they can’t quite
find any other way other than to do something with another Dutch-Canadian,” she explains.
Both Stroet and Bijdemast believe that it is important to put in some effort to pass on the Dutch culture and the Dutch language – spoken by some 8755 people in Vancouver according to the 2011 census – to younger generations. But there is one Dutch tradition that Stroet is still amazed by.
“They eat raw herring!” she says.