Since March 7, we've only seen a handful of Canadians and they were all friends and family who've stopped in to visit us on our travels. Maybe you don't think four months is a long time (we sure didn't), but on Canada Day we made it our mission to find the only gathering of Canadians in the Netherlands, and it really hit home what we left behind.
I think we just assumed, with great relations between our two countries, that there would be a lot of Canadians here, and a community that was excited to celebrate. But we had a lot of trouble finding a Canada Day event. The Canadian International Club of Amsterdam couldn't hold an event because the organizer was too busy, and Haarlem Expats were only holding a 4th of July party. Even Brian's happy Canada Day post to the Haarlem Expat facebook page got only one like – mine.
But we didn't get too discouraged because we found a Canada Day pub night hosted by the Canadian Club of The Netherlands. We had to travel to The Hague (Den Haag), about 40 minutes away by train, so we decided to make a day of it by spending the day at Madurodam, a theme park of Dutch landmarks in miniature.
It was the hottest day of the year to date, and it felt good to be joining Edmonton in heat wave solidarity, even when we were crammed into the Madurodam tram like sardines, sweating waterfalls amongst the cool as ever, breezy, beach-bound Dutch. We kept our eyes out for any signs of Canada, but it was just a regular, if sweltering, Wednesday. At Madurodam's entrance, we passed directional signs indicating its relation to cities around the world, and even if I didn't expect to see Edmonton on one of those arrows, I thought surely Toronto or Vancouver would make the list. Most unfortunately not, and that was a little arrow through my heart on this Canada Day.
Madurodam, however, made up for this slight by being so damn cool (click here for the post), and we did see a couple of tiny Canadian flags in a WWII Liberation display, so that was something to soothe our heartbreakiness. Along the way to our evening festivities, we saw one apartment window displaying the Canadian flag, and we were just so damn thirsty for Canada that we got a little stupid about it. Over one lonely window.
We stopped at a coffee shop down the street to rehyrate before our evening of red and white at O'Caseys Irish Pub, and it was frankly amazing to watch as Canadians walked by towards the event. They were so obviously Canadian, and I'm not talking about the red shirts. For the first time, I was seeing a Canadians as an outsider does and I couldn't help but smile and feel proud to be one. We're the world's adorable, wide-eyed, bushy-tailed, sloppy-smiling little cousin. All these Canadians were so damn cute and we just knew that we'd feel welcome in a way we haven't yet felt here in The Netherlands.
O'Casey's Irish Pub is a little English-speaking oasis. English is spoken throughout the Netherlands, but day-to-day we've been hearing almost exclusively Dutch because of the choices we've made to try to learn the language and immerse ourselves as much as possible. Even though it felt weird for us at first, O'Casey's is clearly the place that English speakers go to feel at home, which we did.
There is just nothing like walking into a group of Canadians. We are a welcoming bunch, and we are remarkably able to connect with each other in a way that transcends distance. Living in a country that is three hours across by train, it seems wholly inadequate to describe Edmonton's location as "near Calgary" or "closer to Vancouver than Toronto." The diversity in our people and culture and geography, is nothing to Canadians but fodder for conversation about our shared experience.
Most of the people we met are based out of Den Haag and area, but a great many of them came from our province of Alberta. We met people from Calgary, Edmonton, and even more specifically, Sherwood Park, where we both grew up. It was quite a welcome shock to us at the time, but makes complete sense given that most work for Shell and/or oil and gas. To hear names like Bev Facey High School (where Brian went) or The Donut Mill (where all Albertans have probably stopped at least once for a donut and a toilet), was unexpected and thrilling.
It was, I think, the most Canadian gathering we could have hoped to find. With drinks in hand, we sang our national anthem (in both official languages). We reminisced about barbecuing, camping and road trips. We shared struggles in language, in work and in life. We bonded over our love of travel, adventure and new experiences. We made connections that we hope to keep and grow.
For us, moving to The Netherlands was a way to hit the restart button with a year dedicated to adventure, fun and learning new things. We still don't know what kind of life we will go on to build from here, but being Canadian will always be something to celebrate.
Happy belated Canada Day from both of us! We'd love to hear how you celebrated Canada's birthday this year.