Edmonton

Alberta woman looks forward to tracing father's steps during historic liberation of the Netherlands

Three quarters of a century after their ancestors helped liberate the Netherlands in World War II, a group of Canadians had planned a pilgrimage of sorts to commemorate the anniversary.

Event organized to mark the 75th anniversary postponed by pandemic to next spring

Tulips are seen at Commissioner's Park during the Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa. The Netherlands has given thousands of tulip bulbs to Canada as an expression of gratitude and friendship for sheltering the Dutch Royal Family during World War II. (The Canadian Press)

Fifty years after being part of the Canadian military forces that helped liberate the Netherlands, Leo Beaulac travelled back to the European country and had a first-hand experience of the deep gratitude felt by its people. 

This spring, 25 years after her father's pilgrimage, Beaulac's daughter had planned to walk in his footsteps on a 60-kilometre hike over three days that would trace the route her father and other soldiers walked near the end of the Second World War.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic put the kibosh on the emotional and historic journey for Jocelyne April and her two brothers.

"I started thinking about (how) we're actually going to be walking the same trail that Dad walked," April told Edmonton AM earlier this week

"It became much more meaningful to be in that same space and ... to experience the thankfulness that Dad experienced, 25 years ago when he went, from the Dutch people. How thankful they still were all this time later."

Young Dutch children hold Canadian flags as they wait for a parade to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Liberation of the Netherlands in Wageningen, Netherlands in 2015. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War and with it, the liberation of the Netherlands from Nazi control. Canadians played a major role in freeing the Netherlands from German occupiers, with Canada even sheltering members of the Dutch Royal Family during the war.

The Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa commemorates the friendship between the two countries, with the Netherlands sending thousands of tulips for the annual spring festival.

Beaulac was a member of the South Saskatchewan Regiment. He served on the front lines in the Netherlands from July 1944 to the end of the war, returning home in January 1946.

April, along with her brothers and other descendants of Canadian soldiers, planned to participate in the "In Our Fathers' Footsteps" journey, hiking the route their ancestors had walked decades ago.

It also would have put participants in the Netherlands for National Liberation Day on May 5. They would also explore the country and Dutch culture, learn about the country's military history and participate in tributes like candlelight vigils and flower ceremonies.

Their trip was cancelled due to travel restrictions because of COVID-19, but the group is now looking ahead to making this walk happen next year.

Karen Hunter, the organizer of In Our Fathers' Footsteps said the plan is to push the event to next May. 

"At this point, it's kind of anybody's guess how it's going to play out," Hunter said about the likelihood of the trip proceeding as planned. "I don't think you could ask anyone and get any kind of a definitive answer." 

April, who lives in Darwell, about 75 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, is disappointed the event had to be cancelled, noting it is getting tougher to travel as she and her husband get older.

But she is still hopeful to be able to do the trip next year, to witness the warmth experienced by her father 25 years ago.

April said her father never talked much about the war when he was younger. But his visit on the 50th anniversary helped him see how thankful the people there were, and that made him open up about his experiences.

"He said when they were walking in parades, older women would fall on their knees and kiss them and hug them," April said. "They were so thankful even 50 years later for the liberation that the Canadian soldiers brought to them."

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