Dutch liberation honoured in Grande Prairie

Below a full moon, candlelight glimmered across a snow-covered garden on Friday; it was in honour of the Dutch liberation at the end of the second world war.

The Veterans Memorial Gardens and Interpretive Centre hosted the candlelight vigil in its inaugural Honuring the Dutch Liberation event.

“The people of Holland were so thrilled and so happy and so grateful to Canadians that every Christmas Eve, the children of Holland, started a vigil where they would light little candles, have some hot chocolate, say a prayer and just remember all of the Canadian soldiers that helped them to have their freedoms,” said Marie Renee Charbonneau, Veterans Memorial Garden project lead and event organizer.

She is hopeful to establish the tradition in Grande Prairie of remembering those who fought in past wars and honouring them on Christmas Eve, like the children in the Netherlands.

The tradition originates from the Holten Canadian War Cemetery in the Netherlands, where candles are left at Canadian graves every Christmas Eve.

Over 1,300 Canadian soldiers are buried at the cemetery.

Allied forces liberated the Netherlands in September 1944 after almost four years of German occupation.

“The great majority of those buried in Holten Canadian War Cemetery died during the last stages of the war in Holland, during the advance of the Canadian 2nd Corps into northern Germany, and across the Ems in April and the first days of May 1945,” says Veterans Affairs Canada.

The event in Grande Prairie was initially planned for Christmas Eve (Dec. 24) but was postponed to Ukrainian Christmas Eve (Jan. 6) due to a heavy snowfall that made the gardens inaccessible.

Charbonneau placed candles along a snow-covered garden; come spring it will be full of tulips symbolizing the liberation.

“What our soldiers meant to the Dutch people should help every Canadian remember what our soldiers should mean to us,” she said.

She noted that the children who place the candles at the Canadian graves at Holten have never experienced war but still understand the importance of Canada’s role in their country's liberation.

“All of the generational stuff is very important to celebrate, to remember, and hopefully, we can start a little bit of a new tradition here.”

Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News