Edmonton

Descendants of WW II soldiers travelling to the Netherlands for 60-kilometre pilgrimage

More than 75 years after Canadian soldiers helped liberate the Netherlands during the Second World War, 100 of their descendants — including 11 Albertans — will walk in their footsteps.

Nearly a dozen Albertans will take part in the walk through the Netherlands

Maureen Liviniuk holds up a photo of her father, Peter Dechant. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC News)

The descendants of Canadian soldiers who helped liberate the Netherlands during the Second World War are honouring that bravery by taking a pilgrimage in their fathers' footsteps.

Going through photo albums in her Edmonton kitchen, Maureen Liviniuk doesn't have many pictures of her father from the war. It was something he never really talked much about except for the few stories he told her sister. 

Her father, Peter Dechant, held the rank of corporal when, at age 27, he was nearly killed in Antwerp, Belgium in 1944, after a bomb went off. 

"He talks about the carnage around him and a little girl who passed away. It was, I think, his defining moment of the war," Liviniuk said, fighting back tears.

Maureen Liviniuk points to a photo of her father, Peter Dechant, who was a corporal during WW II. She accidentally promoted him to 'Captain' while making her photo album. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC )

Now she and her husband are preparing for a 12-day pilgrimage called In Our Fathers' Footsteps to visit the spot her father almost lost his life.

They will be part of a group of 100 Canadians — including 11 from Alberta — who will travel to a number of meaningful places across the Netherlands, according to organizers. 

The pilgrimage was originally planned for May 2020 to mark the 75th anniversary of Canada helping liberate Holland following five years of Nazi occupation. 

Canadians liberate Holland in 1945

Canadians liberate Holland in 1945

3 years ago
Duration 1:30
Jubilant Dutch civilians greet Canadian soldiers as the Allies edge closer to victory.

Organizers said this trip will take descendants on a 60-kilometre trek through the Netherlands, ending with a ceremony at Het Loo Palace in the centre of the country.

"I think we'll be thinking about the boys that did those trips many years ago," Liviniuk said. "You can't really understand what they went through unless you walk the same path."

Honouring relatives

Karen Hunter founded In Our Fathers' Footsteps. Speaking to CBC from Guelph, Ont., she said commemorations, candlelight vigils and celebrations with Dutch locals are planned on the journey — with some participants adding on personal plans of their own.

One Alberta woman, for example, will be seeing her relative's last resting place.

"He's buried there," Hunter said. "She's always wanted to place an Alberta flag on his grave. And so she will be the first in her family to go there and honour that relative."

Canadian WW II vet honoured by Trudeau, Dutch PM

Canadian WWII vet honoured by Trudeau, Dutch PM

4 years ago
Duration 5:26
'I didn't win the war, all my buddies did. I just helped them,' says 94-year-old Don White who helped liberate the Netherlands.

Hunter said this trip gives some descendents a chance to learn more about their relatives' service and be closer to them today. 

"I found that that is something that many have wanted to do, and they've put it off for a long time," she said. "Because they're going to the event, it's given them an incentive to start to do that research."

For Liviniuk, the trip comes with another personal mission; to return some historic photos after more than 75 years.

Some of the photos Maureen Liviniuk said her father took while clearing a press office in Amsterdam during WW II. She plans to return them on her trip. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)

"My dad had picked up a bunch of photographs when he was in Amsterdam. He was clearing a press office, and he had photographs that he picked up and brought home. And I'm taking that back," she said. 

The In Our Fathers' Footsteps pilgrimage takes place in September. Organizers said there are still spots open for anyone interested in taking part.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi is a CBC reporter based in Edmonton. She worked in newsrooms in Toronto, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Yellowknife before joining CBC North in 2017.

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