Mr. Speaker, I rise today in the chamber to speak on Motion No. 207.
Before I begin, I would like to commend the Speaker, the staff, the contractors and Parliament Hill security for this big endeavour to get us set up here in the time they had to do it. Just an hour ago, when we were coming in, they were still changing the bulbs and adjusting the microphones. It was great to be here for the opening just a couple of hours ago, with Algonquin first nations doing a smudging, blessing this place and wishing us all well.
I am here today to speak on a motion to establish May 5 of every year as Dutch heritage day. I share this heritage with my friend from Chatham-Kent—Leamington and many others in the chamber and, of course, millions of Canadians who have Dutch roots and live across this wonderful country. This day would recognize the significant bond between the two countries, the Netherlands and Canada, one that was established by the sacrifices of many Canadians in the liberation of the Netherlands, as well as the contributions made in Canada by people with Dutch heritage.
I am from Cape Breton, which had one of the largest per capita enrolments in World War II. Many of those soldiers are buried in Holland. I am very proud to represent the people of Sydney—Victoria in Cape Breton, who put me here in six elections in almost 19 years. Being elected as a Dutch boy to represent them is an honour, to say the least, and with the support of my wife Pam, our children and six grandchildren, it keeps the wind in my sail to be working for the riding.
In 2013, we tried to establish “maple leaf and tulip day” through Bill C-214, so I hope this motion will receive unanimous consent so that we can recognize the important relationship between our two countries.
As many in the House already know, I have always been a strong backer of strengthening the bond between our two countries. My parents are both from the Netherlands. My dad was born in Beverwijk, a town in northern Holland, and my mom was in southern Holland in a province called Brabant. She was born in the town of Moergestel. Both were from large families. They immigrated to Cape Breton in 1952, along with hundreds of others who went to my beautiful province of Nova Scotia; my colleagues from Nova Scotia here today represent many Dutch people in their ridings.
Many came to Nova Scotia. They landed at Pier 21 and saw the beautiful farmland. It was hard the first few years because they had to work on farms and become oriented. Not all of them became farmers, but a good part of them did.
My parents started a farm of eggs and vegetables, a small family farm, in a place called Millville. There were 10 of us in the family. My mom is not around anymore, but her legacy remains on the farm and with the family. The farm has over 100,000 laying hens and over 500 acres of crops. There are many grandchildren and great-grandchildren who gather together on Christmas Eve at the folks' house.
As chair of the Canada-Netherlands Friendship Group, it was a great honour to meet the Prime Minister of the Netherlands at the Ottawa airport upon his arrival last fall. I spent time with him and Ambassador Henk van der Zwan during the visit, and it was a great honour.
It is important for us to celebrate this bond between our two countries. May 5 is significant to the Dutch community because it was on that day in 1945 that the Nazi army surrendered after a brutal winter. The Dutch people were starving, as there was no food. Canadians were giving their lives, inch by inch, street by street, in the battle for Holland. It was a very brutal winter and in the spring, on May 5, as many of my colleagues have recognized, there was a tremendous celebration. On this day, people in the Netherlands and those of Dutch heritage around the world pause to commemorate their country's liberation.
The freedom of the Netherlands was achieved by the efforts of Canadian soldiers. Many paid the ultimate sacrifice. As was mentioned, more than 7,600 Canadians died in the campaign in the Netherlands. It was a tremendous sacrifice for freedom. I had the honour of visiting many of the gravesites in the Netherlands, and one really does not grasp it until going row by row. As my colleague from Chatham-Kent—Leamington recognized, there are so many cemeteries.
Many of those young men from rural communities, cities, farms, fishing wharfs and factories went over there to fight. They fought for a couple of years over there. The sad part, when we visit those gravesites, is to see that they died within weeks of the war ending. The last push to free Holland was brutal. Many died in February, March and April. However, the gravesites are kept in immaculate condition, with greenery and flowers. Dutch children visit the sites and light candles for them, so they are never forgotten.
I was over there for the 70th anniversary of the liberation and it was tremendous. Over 70 years later, the Dutch people continue to honour the sacrifices of those Canadian soldiers. It was an honour to have the Dutch prime minister address the House. He was the first Dutch prime minister to address Parliament. We were also honoured to have World War II veteran Don White in the House that day.
As I said, I had the great honour of visiting the Netherlands for the 70th anniversary of the liberation and the whole country was moved, especially when the Canadian soldiers in the parade passed by. The big parade in Apeldoorn is unbelievable. When I go back to my riding and visit one of the legions, I see pictures of those who were there during the liberation.
One of the most visible symbols of the bond between our two countries is the tulip. In 1945, the Dutch royal family sent 100,000 tulip bulbs to Canada as a mark of their gratitude for Canada providing them refuge during the Nazi occupation of their country in the Second World War. Also, Canada temporarily designated a spot, I believe, at the Ottawa General Hospital, as Dutch soil, so a Dutch princess could be born there. However, the tulip tradition has continued. Each year, the Dutch royal family and government send thousands of tulip bulbs, which we see all around Ottawa, in remembrance. It has become Ottawa's celebrated tulip festival. People from all over North America and the world come here for that festival, and we enjoy it immensely.
We also have influences, such as trade, which tie the knot of friendship between Canada and the Netherlands even tighter. The Netherlands is Canada's third largest export market in Europe and 10th globally. It is Canada's second largest source of foreign investment, after the United States. We are also like-minded in our social values and peacekeeping.
It is important for us to reflect on the tremendous contributions of Canada's Dutch communities to our society. For example, we can look at General Roméo Dallaire's great contribution to our society and the world. His father was Canadian and his mother was Dutch. He is recognized for his human rights advocacy and his distinguished military career. My riding had the pleasure of hosting him as a keynote speaker for Sydney's 2017 Remembrance Day ceremony. He not only spoke about the special bond between Canada and the Netherlands, but how it was more important than ever that we continued to strengthen our relationship and the accomplishments that we believed could be done internationally.
Another very successful Dutch Canadian is a lady from my riding, Annette Verschuren. She grew up on a farm just down the road from me. She became president of Home Depot for Canada and Asia, and is the chancellor of Cape Breton University.
Dutch heritage day will provide all Canadians with an opportunity to recognize the great things that we have between our countries. With the intolerance seen around the world, it is more important than ever for a bond between our countries. I noticed first-hand when our Prime Minister and the Prime Minister of the Netherlands were sitting together talking, as well as in their addresses to the House. They believed that we could connect and help with peace and tolerance on the world scene, and help make things better for all around the world.
I will conclude by thanking all the veterans whose courage and sacrifice contributed to the liberation of the Netherlands, and Canadians of Dutch heritage for helping to build the great country in which we live.