The King and Queen of the Netherlands laid a wreath at the National War Memorial in Ottawa Wednesday on the first full day of a three-day visit to Canada.

Dutch King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima attended the ceremony with Erin O'Toole, the minister of veteran affairs and afterward met with war veterans during the king's first visit to Canada in nearly 35 years.

Later, at a state dinner held in their honour, King Willem-Alexander paid tribute to the bond between Canada and the Netherlands, forged in part by war.

"There are few countries in the world where the bonds of friendship with the Netherlands are as pronounced as here. Our closeness comes not from official treaties or proclamations. It comes from the heart," he told guests at the banquet at Rideau Hall Wednesday evening.

The king noted the "special significance" of that bond for his family, noting his aunt Margriet — "Canada's princess" — was ‎born in Canada in 1943, as his mother and grandmother took refuge here during WWII.

"On the day she was born, the Dutch flag was flown from Ottawa's Parliament building. At a time when our national flag was banned in our own country, it was hoisted high here in the democratic heart of Canada, a nation that has always been a beacon of freedom in the world."

The king also drew a connection of a different kind.

"Did you know that ice hockey was a Dutch invention? The earliest images of that great sport can be found in Dutch paintings from the 17th century."

Dutch visit marks 70 years since VE-Day

The royals kicked off the day with a welcome ceremony at Rideau Hall, hosted by Gov. Gen. David Johnston and his wife, Sharon. The couple arrived on a horse-drawn carriage guided by two Mounties.

"We've come here this time because we're going to celebrate the very good relations between Canada and the Netherlands," King Willem-Alexander said Wednesday morning.

"We are here to honour all those Canadians that helped liberate the Netherlands 70 years ago from oppression, from dictatorship and gave us back our liberty, freedom and justice."

RAW: Harper greets King on Parliament Hill2:16

The royal couple then made their way to Parliament Hill, where the House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer and the new Speaker of the Senate, Leo Housakos, led a tour of the Library of Parliament and the Senate chamber. 

Later, they were welcomed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and met with the "Dutch Caucus," the group of 20 or so MPs who have strong ties to the Netherlands.

The trip coincides with the 70th anniversary of the Netherlands' liberation. Canada's contribution to the liberation is a running theme throughout the royal's visit. Dutch-Canadian ties have remained strong since VE-Day in 1945.

Prime Minister Harper travelled to the Netherlands earlier in May to mark the anniversary.

Dutch Royal Visit 20150527

Dutch King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima of the Netherlands reach out to a young fan during their welcoming ceremony at Rideau Hall on Wednesday morning. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

He spoke at a VE-Day ceremony held at the Holten Canadian War Cemetery, near Arnhem. The cemetery is home to the graves of 1,350 Canadian soldiers.

"Canadians will never forget the welcome our troops received in this country as the war ended," said Harper during the May 4 ceremony.

"Canadians will never cease to marvel at how this starving and scarred land so quickly became the prosperous, progressive and generous country we know today." 

The King and Queen's visit continues until Friday. They will be visiting Toronto and Waterloo, where they will present a scholarship program for Canadian students hoping to study in the Netherlands.

with files from The Canadian Press