1953_05 Geelen's Highgate

Gallant speaks to Dutch Heritage Day Motion

I was pleased to rise in the House to support Motion No. 207, to recognize every May 5 in Canada as Dutch Heritage Day.

It also gives me great pleasure to congratulate the member for Chatham-Kent—Leamington, a southwestern Ontario riding, for his initiative. Parliament will be losing a great member of Parliament, as the member for Chatham-Kent—Leamington has announced his intention not to run in the upcoming federal election.

It has been a pleasure serving with such a fine member of Parliament and true gentleman. I can think of no better tribute to the achievements of Dave Van Kesteren than to recognize the contribution Dutch people have made to our Canadian heritage.

In applauding Dave, I must declare a conflict of interest. My roots are in the riding of the member who sponsored the motion.

I was raised in Blenheim, and I worked the fields in Dover and Chatham before leaving to obtain a post-secondary education, eventually following my heart to the upper Ottawa Valley, which I am thankful to call home. Many of my family members reside in the Chatham area to this day.

The motion is about recognizing the Dutch people in our home communities, families like the Van Hoofs, the Rooks, the Jansens, the Vandergragts, the Van der Gallens, the Van Bavels, the Devries, the Van Der Ploegs, the Vandersleens, the Van Gentevoorts and the Stoops, founders of Steqcan, a farm equipment manufacturer in Westmeath. This is just to name a few.

My family was part of the large migration of Dutch people who came to Canada in the aftermath of World War II. My maternal grandparents, Arnoldus Jacobus Geelen and Elisa Huberdina Geelen-Thiesen, emigrated from Holland, arriving in Quebec City on May 15, 1952, with 10 children, the youngest but a few weeks old. They had heard about life in Canada from friends and relatives who were already here. They said it was good, and my family was not disappointed.

They found the people friendly from the very first as Canada became home to all of them. Family members were understandably nervous about uprooting their growing children and moving to an unknown land with different customs, languages and food. This experience is no different from what the current generation of emigrants to Canada feel today when they arrive in this land.

The story of my Dutch grandparents is my personal heritage moment. It is representative of the reason May 5 deserves to be recognized as Dutch Heritage Day in Canada.