Confessions of a Canadian Liberator

trees-allaboutamsterdamToday is Liberation Day. And it was 65 years ago that Canada liberated the Netherlands from Nazi German occupation. Sure, it was more of an “Allied” operation and the Poles did their bit to help out, but Canadians soldiers truly left their mark as they lingered in Amsterdam for months after. They even had their own Amsterdam guide book (pictured left, see full scan here).

By early 1946, venereal disease was skyrocketing and over 7000 babies were born out of wedlock (which is coincidentally  around the  same number as those Canadians who had died). Even today, when Canadian soldiers return to take part in the Remembrance Day ceremonies they are greeted by aging women with signs asking ‘Are you my Daddy?’.

I was clued into the raw sex appeal Canadians enjoyed back then by a friend’s octogenarian grandmother. She had been there to welcome the Canadians when they came marching into town. She described how handsome and muscular they looked, especially when compared to the local lads who had just come out of the ‘Hunger Winter’. She also mentioned how great it was to get chocolate and fresh stockings. She really went on and on… Then I got a little creeped out when I realised she was actually reliving the raw lust she felt back then for these strapping Canadians. Talk about living memories!

Later I heard that a lot of those ‘Hunger Winter’ Dutch boys remembered something else: how when the Canadians rode through the cheering masses, the soldiers would lift up women onto their tanks and trucks by picking them up like a 10-pin bowling balls… (Which is kind of weird since one of the marks of Canadian identity is a preference for 5-pin bowling.)

trees_00011000734But anyway, I decided to just focus on the purely liberation part of the story. I started to bring my Canadian passport with me on Liberation Days in the hopes of scamming free beer for the sacrifices my country had made. Actually, I just tried it on a befriended bartender. And when he wasn’t immediately forthcoming with the free beer, I tried to suggest that he really owed me: after all, maybe I was his Daddy. After a brief lecture in mathematics he finally relented and gave me a beer. But his true gift came later. As I exited I shouted goodbye to him across the crowded bar. He returned with a: “Hey man, thanks for the liberation!” And just before the door swung shut behind me I had time to yell “Hey man, anytime!”.

It was the best bar exit scene ever. So of course I tried to relive this magic moment every year. Until a regular who had witnessed my ploys pointed out to me: ‘Yes, liberation is all fine and good, but occupation is not.’ I knew then that I had worn out my welcome as Canadian Beer Liberator.

But it still felt like destiny a couple of years ago when I was cast as a Canadian major liberating Holland in the film Snuf de Hond in Oorlogstijd [‘Snuf the Dog in Wartime’],  which was based on a children book series about a Lassie-like dog who became a hero of the Dutch Resistance. Basically I played a gullible Canadian peckerhead who falls for the stories of a traitor who is supposed to show  us the enemy German positions but is instead setting us up for a trap. Luckily, Snuf comes in just in time to save the day. You could say the Canadians came off quite badly in this movie. Or you could say I was being typecast as usual.

But my favourite story related to the Liberation by the Canadians  I heard  while taking a cab to Schiphol airport. The cabbie was an old Dutch guy and after I told him that I was heading back to Canada to visit my family he said: ‘I got a story you will just love.’

He told me how he was born a few years before WWII in the south of Holland and how during the war he acted as his blind grandfather’s seeing-eye dog. One night, his Opa and he were walking under the cover of darkness to a nearby village to trade food, milk, tulip bulbs, whatever. Suddenly his Opa heard some sort of heavy transport coming in their direction. Worried that it was the Germans, they hid behind a fence. But as it came closer, his Opa realised that the engines sounded different. So they came out of hiding and saw a whole procession of tanks and trucks. The leading tank stopped in front of them, the top popped up and a soldier appeared and asked in English: ‘Is this the way to Arnhem?’ Opa replied in the affirmative and then asked back in English: ‘Are you Americans?’

The soldier looked down at blind  Opa with disgust and answered “No way old man. We’re fucking Canadians!

trees-heeft-een-canadees--collectie-hugo-keesing-1994Now isn’t that a heart-warming tale? Isn’t it nice to know that such a well-developed sense of Canadian-ness already existed back in 1945? Isn’t it enough to make a Canadian nationalist out of you?

Of course, I became a fierce Canadian nationalist once I stopped living there 20 years ago. For a long time, I would always be ready to natter on about Canada’s natural beauty, expansive spaces, nice folks, un-American-ness, reasonable immigration policies, multiculturalism as a matter-of-fact and not a matter of endless circular discussions…

However my nationalism eventually got dimmed by a friend in Amsterdam who happened to have  an estranged Canadian lumberjack father. He once interrupted one of my pro-Canadian rants with: ‘You want to know what I think about when I think of Canada? I think of a drunk that used to beat me.’

Indeed. ‘Where’s my Daddy?

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Posted in Uncategorized 10 years, 11 months ago at 10:43 am.

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  1. Mijn ene tante heette Trees. Die kreeg verkering met een Canadees. Mijn andere tante heette Sjaan. Die kwam thuis met een Amerikaan. Later is daar nog een liedje over gemaakt:

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