British Columbia

New Heritage Minute tells story of life-long love, sparked in aftermath of occupation of the Netherlands

The video tells the story of Canadian soldier Wilfred Gildersleeve and Dutch woman Margiet Blaisse, as they met during the liberation of Amsterdam in 1945.

The video tells the story of Canadian soldier Wilfred Gildersleeve and Dutch woman Margiet Blaisse

Margriet Blaisse and Wilfred Gildersleeve are portrayed by actors in a new Heritage Minute commemorating 75 years since the liberation of the Netherlands by Canadian soldiers. (Historica Canada)

It's a beautiful story of a life-long love — one that sprouted from the ashes of the German occupation of the Netherlands.

It's the tale of a Canadian man who fought to liberate Europe, and a Dutch woman in Amsterdam who happily welcomed the Canadian soldiers. It's a symbol of the special 75-year relationship Canada and the Netherlands have shared since the liberation.

It's one of nearly 1,900 similar stories, according to Historica Canada, and this one has been told several times before. But now it has been captured in a Heritage Minute, further galvanizing its place in Canadian history.

The new Heritage Minute features Canadian soldier Wilfred Gildersleeve and a Dutch woman named Margriet Blaisse.

Gildersleeve grew up in New Westminster and fought during the Second World War with the Seaforth Highlanders. He started as a radio signaler in Sicily in 1943, and wound up platoon commander by the time he made it to Amsterdam in 1945.

Blaisse, who (spoiler) would soon change her name to Gildersleeve, lived with her prominent Amsterdam lawyer father next to the park where the Canadians parked their vehicles after sweeping into the city to free its people from German rule.

Wilfred and Margriet (Blaisse) Gildersleeve married shortly after the Second World War ended in Europe. (Courtesy of Juliana Leahy)

The Heritage Minute, in its typical brevity, jumps over the part of the story where Gildersleeve and about 20 of his fellow soldiers were invited to Blaisse's house for a drink — only to discover the stores of food and wine the family had hidden away to celebrate the end of the war had spoiled. 

The story picks up the scene later that evening, when Gildersleeve returned to the house with an armful of food for the family.

The two would eventually marry and move back to West Vancouver, where they raised a large family.

They both passed away in 2001, but their story endures.

Wilfred and Margriet Gildersleeve took their honeymoon in the Gulf Islands in British Columbia. (Courtesy of Juliana Leahy)

The family got a preview of the Heritage Minute before its release on Tuesday.

"We were stunned," said daughter Juliana Leahy, who now lives in Comox. "We were stunned, because it was so powerful."

Leahy said the family is quite aware of the fact that her parents' story has come to serve as a symbol of the relationship Canada and the Netherlands have shared since the end of the Second World War, as well as hundreds of other marriages between Canadian solders and Dutch women from that time.

"They would be very proud, but it would be in a very, kind of, understated way," she said of her parents. "They were very, very humble kind of people."

She said her father converted to Catholicism to marry her mother, and he tried to learn Dutch — though he never really managed.

He built a small house and kept adding rooms as the family grew.

Wilfred and Margriet Gildersleeve are pictured with their family at their 50th anniversary. (Courtesy of Juliana Leahy)

Leahy said the legacy of the relationship, which never could have begun in the first place, had the Canadians not fought their way through Europe to beat the German troops, is eight children, 18 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

"We are part of something that is so much bigger than us," she said of the liberation of the Netherlands ands everything that came afterwards.

In 1980, she was able to travel to Amsterdam with her parents to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the liberation.

Wilfred Gildersleeve is pictured during a celebration of the 35th anniversary of the Liberation of the Netherlands in 1980. (Courtesy of Juliana Leahy)

"I'm seeing all ages, from children to 90 years old ... I'm sure it was hundreds of thousands of people lining the all the streets, throwing tulips at these beautiful [veterans]," said Leahy. "It was mind boggling, the depth of respect and appreciation."

"You feel what the Canadians did, big time, when you see, when you go through an experience like that."


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About the Author

Rafferty Baker is a video journalist with CBC News, based in Vancouver. You can find his stories on CBC Radio, television, and online at cbc.ca/bc.

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