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Celebration enhances cultural diversity

Gathering planned to mark Dutch monarchy change
Chris Bolster

Serving as ambassadors is not a new role for Powell River outdoor enthusiasts John Hermsen and Christy Krebber. With the upcoming investiture of the Netherlands’ new king, they’re finding a way to share a bit of the old country with their new one.

Hermsen and Krebber specialize in bringing Dutch ecotourists on guided paddle tours through the Copeland Islands and Desolation Sound and on hikes through the Upper Sunshine Coast’s rugged backcountry. They started their Wildwood-based adventure company, Footprint Nature Explorations Ltd., in 2006 when they immigrated to Powell River from Holland.

“If you’re looking for nature, this is Valhalla,” said Hermsen. “I’ve paddled around a lot of the coast and around here is just magical.”

Unlike Vancouver or the Fraser Valley, the Dutch community in Powell River is not organized around a community centre or a church, but that does not bother Hermsen. “I don’t mind not having an organized Dutch community here,” he said. “Things like this can bring us all together in an informal way.”

In fact, he and Krebber have decided that the crowning of the new Dutch king would be a great opportunity to bring the community a little closer.

They will be celebrating Queen’s Day and the investiture of Queen Beatrix’s eldest son Willem-Alexander to the throne on Tuesday, April 30, in Powell River.

Queen Beatrix, 75, will step down at precisely 10 am and become Princess Beatrix, and Willem-Alexander will become king.

The investiture, as it is known in Holland, differs from a traditional coronation because the monarch is not actually crowned. Rather, the royal regalia—the crown, the scepter and the royal orb—are placed together with a copy of the Constitution on a table beside where the new monarch takes an oath to the people.

On April 30, King Willem-Alexander, 45, will become the nation’s first male monarch since 1890. After him, as the father of three daughters, the queenly tradition will be restored.

Hermsen often meets other Dutch-Canadians while in the grocery store speaking Dutch to his partner and he thinks with a little organization the community could be tighter. “Out of the blue, someone will tap my shoulder and with a bit of a strange accent say, ‘It’s good to hear the old language again,’” he said. “And then you get into a conversation with them and find out how long their family has lived here.”

Hermsen and Krebber moved to Powell River after catching the sea kayaking fever. In 1999 they and another Dutch couple, who live on Salt Spring Island, took a guided kayaking tour through Toba Inlet. After that they tried to return every other year until making the decision to move here.

“We’ve come full circle,” said Hermsen, “but we didn’t intend to when we first came.”

Since immigrating, the pair has worked hard to adjust to living in Canada and has found that with the Internet, staying in touch with family and current events has not been too difficult. “Easier than before,” Hermsen said, “when all you had was paper, pen and a stamp.”

They have decided to organize an informal gathering for Powell River’s Dutch-Canadians, and anyone else interested in finding out more about Dutch culture, at a local restaurant in Townsite.

“This is a good way to stay connected with the country,” he said. “These events, like the Olympics, World Cup and Euro Cup soccer, really help.”

Krebber agrees. “It’s not that John and I are really into the royalty or anything,” she said. “But in Holland it’s a big thing. After 33 years, [Beatrix] is resigning...It’s a huge celebration. If we were there, we’d be celebrating.”

Because Holland is nine hours ahead of Powell River, the couple will not be showing live video from the ceremony, but Hermsen said he’s planning a short talk about Dutch history and the country’s contribution to the arts and sports.

A tradition of Queen’s Day is to host a kleedjesmarkt, which is a kind of yard sale. Traditionally, children would lay blankets on the side of the road and sell old toys and often perform dances or sing songs.

Queen’s Day is renowned as one of the biggest and most colourful festivals in the Netherlands and has been celebrated for more than a century. After this year it will be celebrated on April 27, the soon-to-be king’s birthday.

After the investiture of the new monarch, Amsterdam will host a special royal boat parade, called IJ, on its waterfront. Musical performances, art shows, dance, sports and markets will fill the streets.

Local media in Amsterdam report that officials expect the city to fill up with international visitors and Dutch citizens wanting to participate in the festivities.

“In Holland everything will be orange and Amsterdam will be loaded with visitors,” said Hermsen. “It will be a huge street party.”

Large screens are being set up in places throughout the city so that everyone can follow the official royal ceremonies.

In Powell River though, anyone interested in finding out more about the investiture or the traditions that surround crowning a monarch in the Netherlands are invited to attend Hermsen and Krebber’s “informal gathering.” Festivities will start at 4:30 pm Tuesday, April 30, at The HUB 101 restaurant in Townsite, and Hermsen mentioned that he will be giving the kitchen some of his recipes for Dutch entrees and other goodies. Everyone is encouraged to wear orange.