The theme of old friends and reliable partners formed the heart of a story shared recently by the Netherlands Ambassador Wim Geerts with members of the Canadian Club of Ottawa.
To kick off the celebration of 65 years of friendship between Canada and the Netherlands, the Ambassador spoke about a bond that dates back to 1945 when Canada aided in the liberation of the Netherlands.
Every year, the capital has a symbolic reminder of its special relationship with the Netherlands with the springtime blooming of beautiful tulips. In the fall of 1945, Princess Juliana of the Netherlands presented Ottawa with 100,000 tulip bulbs in appreciation of the safe haven that the city provided to members of the Dutch Royal Family during the Second World War. When Princess Margriet was born at the Ottawa Civic Hospital, her hospital room was declared "Dutch soil" and the flag of the Netherlands flew on Parliament's Peace Tower.
In a gesture of goodwill, Ambassador Geerts and his wife Thea graciously invited Ottawa At Home into their magnificent Rockcliffe Park residence. As Mrs. Geerts prepared the home for a charity event, she impressed us with her hands-on approach to décor. White linens provided the perfect backdrop for her elegant creation of spiraling red roses. Equally impressive was a whimsical tic-tac-toe arrangement of flowers and stems, set on a glass coffee table in the sitting room.
The hostess credits the abundant flower markets found in the Netherlands for her source of inspired arrangements. "I would say all Dutch women have a flair for floral arranging," says Thea, who adds that flowers are found everywhere in the Netherlands and believes that the Dutch are generally innovative and creative people. Using typical Dutch designs, brought back from visits home, Thea expresses her artistic side through tulip vases she creates from cardboard milk boxes.
It is the simple attempts to make an official residence a family home that help to ease the difficulty associated with not only moving to a foreign country, but also giving up the rights to call your house your own. While the Geerts home reflects the official significance of an Ambassador's residence, the warmth of family life is felt throughout. The home offers enough room for them to personalize the space and with two teenage daughters, that is very important says Thea. "The children need to feel at home too, not only in their bedrooms but throughout the house."
The residence was built in the early ‘90s, as a private home and the Kingdom of the Netherlands purchased it in 2003. Its elegant, contemporary style is carried out with furnishings reflective of the architecture. The Dutch designers who worked through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs combined modern components with a sense of tradition. Abstract art and 19th century paintings adorn the wall space, and the rooms are furnished with both contemporary and antique pieces. Everything is cleverly put together to create the prestigious home, including the grand two-storey entry with soaring ceilings and windows that allow light to stream through the house. It overlooks a magnificent backyard with pool and deck areas designed with outdoor entertaining in mind.
Creating a home for themselves within Ottawa has been important to the Geerts who find their basic lifestyle here is similar to the Netherlands, except for a few missing aspects. "In the Netherlands everybody uses bikes everyday, not only as a recreational activity, but as an environmentally-friendly way of transportation. At the embassy we try to promote regular biking in the city," says Thea. As a trained physiotherapist, not being able to work in Ottawa is another lifestyle change. However, volunteering her skills at the Perley and Rideau Veteran's Health Centre and being involved in other volunteering activities is a helpful and worthwhile compensation.
Similar to most diplomatic families, the Geerts make the most of their stay by exploring the area and taking advantage of all the varied year-round activities the capital offers - from winter skiing and seasonal biking, to visiting the many museums. Missing relatives is always an issue when living abroad, although having family to visit allows the Geerts to play host in a city where they often feel like tourists. And what better way to get to know your community than taking on the role of a local ambassador!