This Week in History


The Canadians Liberate Holland

For the week of Monday April 29, 2002

On May 5, 1945, the German forces in the Netherlands surrendered to Canadian General Charles Foulkes. After many years of battle, the soldiers of the First Canadian Army engaged in a vastly different and rewarding operation: they liberated the country and saved the Dutch people from near starvation.

Flooding in the Netherlands

Flooding in the Netherlands
© Donald I. Grant / Dept. of National Defence /
LAC / PA-175772

After the Normandy landing in the spring of 1944, the First Canadian Army moved through France, Belgium and the Netherlands, liberating German-occupied towns along the way. Their mission was to push back the Germans and take the Belgian port of Antwerp — a strategic port, vital to the maintenance of the Allied armies. With much sacrifice they succeeded. In March of 1945, General Foulkes and the I Canadian Corps joined the First Canadian Army from Italy. Combined, they pushed the Germans into western Holland.

Isolating the Germans, attention then shifted to a more pressing matter — the imminent starvation of the Dutch. In September of 1944, the Dutch Resistance had helped an Allied operation against German-occupied Arnhem by calling a general railway strike throughout the country. In retaliation the Germans had placed an embargo on food supplies into urban centres. At that time there was not enough food in storage to last the winter.

Finally, a truce was called between the Allies and the Germans on April 28, 1945 and under Canadian supervision, food and fuel were transported by air, and later by land. Widespread starvation was avoided only by a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, while in retreat the Germans destroyed dykes causing severe flooding in the country. This forced the Canadians to stay on the roads where they became easy targets for the Germans, delaying further efforts at aid and liberation.

Canadian soldier surrounded by joyous Dutch

Canadian soldier surrounded by joyous Dutch
© Alexander Mackenzie Stirton /
Dept. of National Defence / LAC / PA-134376

To the Allied forces' relief the German forces in the Netherlands surrendered on May 5. On May 8, the war ended in Europe, allowing Canadians to liberate the rest of the country. They received enthusiastic welcomes everywhere. The First Canadian Army controlled the evacuation of the German army and continued to aid the Dutch with relief until May 12 when they relinquished control to the Dutch government. By then, the immediate crisis was over.

The Canadian Liberation of Holland, an event of national historic significance, formed a deep friendship between Canada and the Netherlands. Today, still grateful to Canadians, the Dutch tend our soldiers' graves throughout their country. They also send us tulips every year for the Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa.

For more information on Canada and the Netherlands from 1944-45, visit Veterans Affairs Canada.

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