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Controversy surrounds proposed Wieringen pioneer monument

Sculptor of Ottawa monument

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

SLOOTDORP, the Netherlands - The design for a monument to honour the pioneers who reclaimed the Wieringermeerpolder in the Netherlands 75 years ago has met with public resistance. Henk Visch proposes a multi-faceted monument, but its symbolism requires extensive explanations.

Visch is the sculptor of the Canadian Netherlands Liberation Monument ‘The Man with the Two Hats,’ which was unveiled in 2000 in the Dutch city of Apeldoorn by Princess Margriet. Two years later, she also unveiled a replica of the monument in Ottawa. The Dutch princess was born to Princess Juliana in Ottawa in 1943. The hospital’s delivery room temporarily was designated Dutch territory.

Because Visch’ Wieringermeer monument requires more explanation than commonly is the case, many area residents are reluctant to embrace it. The large piece of art, contains a human figure balancing on a long construction beam with a number of small figures at the end. The main figure represents the pioneers, the beam a timeframe, and the small figures the people of the future, which in 2005 is now, according to Visch.

First Zuiderzee reclamation

Wieringermeer is part of the northwestern-most corner of Noord-Holland. It is named after the island Wieringen, which was linked to the mainland in 1926 by the first section of what became known as the Afsluitdijk (the Barrier Dam). The dam eventually was extended across the Zuiderzee to Friesland, closing most of the inlet off to problems-causing tides. Four years later the dikes were completed, shaped with a bend halfway north from the coastal town of Medemblik. The resulting polder was the first major reclamation in the inland sea now known as IJsselmeer, later followed by the Noordoostpolder and the two Flevopolders.

The Wieringermeer measures about 60,000 acres. Cultivation started in 1934 and the polder became a major and modern agrarian centre. It recklessly was inundated in April 1945 by retreating German army units, as part of their scorched earth strategy and caused significant damage. By the mid 1970s, there were 420 farms - including ten owned by the State – as well as 27 vegetable and 8 bulb grower operations, in a landscape marked by straight lines and endless vistas. There are a handful of villages on the 8,500 acres former island of Wieringen, of which Den Oever (at the head of the Afsluitdijk) perhaps is best known. The communities are Hippolytushoef, Oosterland, Stroe, Westerland, De Haukes, Westerklief and Oosterklief. In the polder, the communities are named Kreileroord, Middenmeer, Wieringerwerf and Slootdorp.