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Ontario Provincial Parliament gives unanimous to Witmer’s Bill 166

May Dutch Heritage Month

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

TORONTO, Ontario - Canada’s most populous province, Ontario, has unanimously passed a little known legislative proposal, called bill 166, to “to proclaim May as Dutch Heritage Month”. The act was introduced by Dutch-born and former Ontario deputy premier, Elizabeth Witmer, who continues to serve as the Member of the Provincial Parliament for Kitchener-Waterloo. MMPs from all three parties gave glowing reports of the role of the Dutch who have settled in Ontario, which is home to about half of the one million Canadians who now claim Dutch ancestry.

During the proceedings it became obvious that all expect “Dutch Heritage Month” to be a symbol of the special bonds between the province of Ontario and the Netherlands. It is anticipated that Dutch Heritage Month will help build on an already firmly established record of mutual respect and will continue “to honour the past with an opportunity to look toward a bright future as innovative, creative and reliable partners.”

The Dutch Heritage Month proclamation is a huge leap forward from the recognition the City of Burlington has given the local Dutch community with its over a decade-long annual Dutch Heritage Day proclamation around May 5. The Burlington initiative has its early roots in an invitation to a local school band to march and play in an Apeldoorn Liberation celebration parade in 1995.

Samuel Holland

A few Burlington Dutch Canadians, led by clothier Jack van der Laan, then formed the Canada Netherlands Friendship Association which continues to organize Burlington events to celebrate the ties of friendship. It also was Van der Laan’s group which introduced Schiedam area born Elizabeth Witmer, then a provincial minister, to the Ontario wide community. The CNFA bestowed an honorary membership on Witmer.

The Dutch have footprints all over Ontario, going back as far as 1791, when Deventer-born surveyor and cartographer Samuel Johannes Holland made a survey of the Lake Simcoe region. Holland Landing reminds Ontarions of Holland’s footprints there as does Holland Marsh, which long after became the vegetable patch of Toronto, of Ontario and beyond. No doubt, others of Dutch ancestry may have made unrecorded forays into the region.

Contrary to information on a number of websites, the cartographer hailed from Deventer but later lived in Nijmegen from where he enlisted in the English army. He later came to North America. Holland’s paternal greatgrandfather was a German Lutheran minister who settled in the Dutch Republic. Samuel J. Holland’s father, a leather merchant, was born in Utrecht but settled in Deventer, information researched from Dutch army and civil archives in the early 1990s by historian Janny Lowensteyn.

Albert Vander Mey

Several books describe the contributions made by the Dutch in their new environment after coming to Canada. Most such histories must still be written and published, but notably Albert Vander Mey, who passed away some years ago, left every other future writer a huge legacy with his titles such as To All Our Children, And the Swamp Flourished (Holland Marsh), When Canada Was Home (about Princess Margriet), The Dutch Touch in Ontario and Floral Passion, all still available. The book In Pursuit of Justice covers the history of a labour union launched by Dutch immigrants, while a comprehensive, popular history of the Christian school movement in Ontario, also the story of Dutch immigrants, still awaits an author and publication, along with similar reflections on agriculture and other subjects.

Dutch officials

Dutch government representatives in Canada point to areas in public policy in which Dutch and Canadian objectives meet. From the Dutch perspective these are, for example, the green economy, architecture, urban planning and sustainable development, as well as strong ties and partnerships between universities in Ontario and the Netherlands. They note that our common history and shared values provide an excellent basis for further cooperation.

Ambassador Wim Geerts warmly welcomes the concept of an annual Dutch Heritage Month. “Ottawa’s hospitality towards our Royal Family, Canada’s role in our liberation (in 1945, editor) and the Dutch emigration to Canada laid the foundation for the bonds of friendship between our two countries. Ottawa’s friendship symbol is a tulip, in memory of the Dutch heritage. The friendship between Canada and the Netherlands evolved and continues to make us partners of choice, also economically.’

Hans Horbach, who currently is Consul General in Ontario’s capital of Toronto notes that The Netherlands ranks as the third largest investor in Canada after the U.S. and the U.K. He finds it remarkable that his country, which almost fits into Lake Ontario, can make such a footprint.

The U.S.A. also celebrates its ties with the Netherlands, but designated only one day: November 16, the anniversary of the first official salute to the Stars and Stripes in the harbour of the Dutch West Indies island of St. Eustatius on 16 November 1776.