News Articles

Threats against Zwarte Piet character force cancellation of Sinterklaas Welcome

Amid allusion to ‘violence in the Netherlands’

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

NEW WESTMINSTER, BC - A 25-year Dutch community Sinterklaas Welcome, originally spearheaded by the local Hyack Festival Association, which also organizes the Santa Claus parade, was cancelled amid wide-spread publicity by lead organizer Taco Slump. At issue was the soot-covered face of the character Zwarte Piet, a “racist” expression according to Black Community spokesman, a Mr. Jones.

The helpers of Sinterklaas with their “black” faces remind his Afro-Canadian community of slavery and racism, he lectured Slump, who owns the New Westminster Holland Shopping Centre location. Slump has been the lead-organizer of the Sinterklaas event for over a decade.

The event was conceived in 1986 by New Westminster community volunteer Rick Spier, shortly after he was elected President of Hyack during a discussion with Albert van der Heide who publishes the Windmill Herald.

Hyack Festival organizer Tim Enno promoted the event and received the support from the river boat owners, so Sinterklaas and his party could arrive by boat, in keeping with the traditional arrival in the Netherlands.

Slump’s attempts to explain the Dutch tradition to the complainant proved futile since Jones repeated his warnings and the promise of a negative publicity campaign.


In his first communication, he advised Slump that “You are probably aware of the violence that is occurring as we speak in the Netherlands (sic). People are soon going to find out about your planned event in New Westminster, and we would like to avoid similar reactions here. If you move quickly, there would be no reason for any protests.” In a follow-up he reminded Slump that “It is not in anyone's best interest (especially the children), to engage in public protests or other actions, such as a large media campaign. I would be very happy to avoid any negative publicity on what could otherwise be a wonderful celebration. If you indicate that Black Peter will be removed from the celebration this year, I will immediately cease pursuing this matter.”


Another e-mailer promised Slump that if he did not remove the Zwarte Piet character, a complaint would be launched with the City of New Westminster which has facilitated the event in various ways in the past, also by attending the Sinterklaas event in official capacities. From yet another e-mail it was obvious that the protestors had already targeted other organizations which aided the welcome of the Sinterklaas event. By now, news outlets were starting to inquire about the “discriminatory and racist” aspects of the welcome, all within days of the first e-mail. Subsequently, the controversy was covered by dailies and magazines around the world and front page news in the Netherlands as well.

Slump and his wife Francis considered various options to facilitate a trouble-free childrens’ event and also offered to discuss the concerns with the protestors. Similarly, they polled various members of the Dutch community and customers who overwhelmingly insisted that Zwarte Piet be part of any welcome.

Considering the threats to the childrens’ event, it forced the Slump’s decision to cancel the even this year.

The website has a very interesting flood of comments of the controversy. The daily Vancouver Sun covered the controversy extensively in its Letters to the Editor column in addition to articles here and here.