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Blog: Building on 75 years of friendship between Ottawa and the Netherlands

September 15, 2019
Feature Stories

Mayor Jim Watson is leading a delegation of 20 Ottawa business and tourism leaders to the Netherlands. This five-day mission will strengthen our business and tourism relations, and build on the strong bonds of cooperation and friendship that Ottawa has shared with the Netherlands since the Second World War.

Day 5 (September 19, 2019) – Amsterdam

On the last day of the mission, Mayor Watson and the Ottawa delegation covered a lot of ground in Amsterdam to launch exciting new business ventures for fast-growing companies that joined the mission as commercial delegates.

Ottawa-based Assent Compliance, a global leader in supply chain data management, continued its worldwide expansion by officially opening its new European headquarters in Amsterdam today. This new hub in Amsterdam strengthens the longstanding bond between Ottawa and the Netherlands, and establishes Assent as a true force in the modernization of global supply chains. Despite already having several clients in Europe, this first brick-and-mortar office will provide Assent with a full-time presence that will play a key role in growing its footprint within the European Union.

Assent Compliance opening

Accenture is a multinational professional services company that provides services in strategy, consulting, digital, technology and operations. They are also a key partner in the Ottawa L5 testing facilities. Accenture convened many partners, including representatives from the City of Amsterdam and Martello, to a Thought-Leadership Session to share best practices and innovation trends in the areas of mobility, civic innovation and smart cities.

Martello Technologies Group welcomed the delegation to their Amsterdam office, where they provided a demonstration of their IT operations analytics software. The City of Ottawa uses this software to visualize and manage the performance of its IT infrastructure through simple service-oriented dashboards. Headquartered in Ottawa – with offices in Montreal, Amsterdam, Paris, Dallas and New York – Martello provides control over complex IT systems with solutions such as SD-WAN technology, network performance management software, and IT analytics software.

Group picture from demonstration

Mayor Watson also met with Mayor Femke Halsema, the first woman elected as Mayor of Amsterdam. They discussed opportunities to grow our cities’ relationship and issues of mutual interest, such as tourism, affordable housing and cycling infrastructure. Like Ottawa, Amsterdam is viewed as a bustling hub of commerce that welcomes visitors from around the world and immigrants from other cultures with open arms. It is also a lovely canal-side city with a rich history and wonderful green surroundings.

picture of Mayors

Over the last five days, Mayor Watson hosted signature events in The Hague and Amsterdam, inviting Dutch leaders in tourism and business to celebrate and build on over 75 years of friendship between our two countries. The Mayor highlighted how Ottawa truly represents Canada In One City, making it the ideal place to invest, visit and study. The events shared our pride in Ottawa as a world-class capital, globally recognized as a diverse metropolitan hub, with a friendly atmosphere and magnificent natural beauty, not to mention a brand new state-of-the-art light rail transit system.

Through the course of the week, Invest Ottawa’s Director of Autonomous Vehicles, Kelly Daize, took to the stage to showcase the many advantages of doing business in Ottawa, including our diverse technology sector, great access to talent, low cost of doing business, superb quality of life, and an accessible global network. Ottawa is especially well-equipped to collaborate on innovative and future-ready technology, with the second-highest concentration of high-tech firms and talent in North America.

Ottawa Tourism’s President and CEO Michael Crockatt also inspired guests to visit Ottawa by highlighting the ways our city represents the people, cultures and experiences of Canada. Home to so many national cultural institutions and major festivals, our welcoming city is a unique destination for visitors, as well as a perfect setting for conferences and events.

Picture from event

Mayor Watson speaking

Outside the building

Day 4 (September 18, 2019) – Rotterdam and Haarlem

As Ottawa prepares its new Official Plan, our focus is to build a resilient city that is adaptable, sustainable and innovative, now and for many years to come. Rotterdam’s ambitious work on climate-proofing their city makes it an ideal place to learn and experience resilience in practice, such as the City delegation’s visit to the award-winning Water Squares, multi-use public plazas that collect storm water runoff. The City of Ottawa’s General Manager of Planning, Infrastructure and Economic Development, Stephen Willis, also met with Rotterdam’s Chief Resilience Officer, Arnoud Molenaar, to discuss the future of sustainable cities. 

Picture of one of Rotterdam’s Water Squares

On the way to Amsterdam, Mayor Watson made a stop at the Rudolf Steiner College in Haarlem, a town roughly 20 minutes outside of Amsterdam. This special visit came about approximately two weeks ago when grade 9 teachers Nina and Maartje sent an email to Mayor Watson to let him know how much their students had been moved by the story of his coming out. At the time, Nina shared that every student in her class was in the process of writing him a letter expressing sentiments of pride and well wishes in his newfound freedom. Two weeks ago, Nina and Maartje were not aware of the Mayor’s upcoming travels to the Netherlands.

On Sunday, upon his arrival in The Hague, those letters were waiting for Mayor Watson at the hotel. Today, Mayor Watson happily visited Nina and Maartje’s class in Haarlem. Approximately 35 students were in attendance: mostly grade 8 students, and a few older students who are openly gay at the school. They were all very much looking forward to sharing their stories with Mayor Watson, and it made for an emotional and memorable visit.

Picture of the Mayor and students

Day 3 (September 17, 2019) – The Hague & Eindhoven

As the mission continued in The Hague and Eindhoven, several important partnership agreements were signed to help strengthen our business and tourism connections.

The Hague to Ottawa (H2O) agreement is an MOU between the destination marketing organizations (DMOs) in the two cities to promote one another as destinations of choice, in order to attract new international conventions and business events. Ottawa Tourism and The Hague Convention Bureau will collaborate to open new doors for both capitals, pitching each other as gateway cities to North America and Europe. The business events industry in Canada generates $33 billion annually in direct spending and employs over 229,000 Canadians. In 2018, 16 per cent of events held in Ottawa came from the US or overseas markets, representing 9,700 delegates and 16,000 room nights contributing to Ottawa’s economy.

Ottawa Tourism is hoping to leverage the partnership to help attract up to four large meetings and conventions over the coming years, with the sectors of technology, security, defence and life sciences being particularly promising. They also hope to generate new leisure travel itineraries with tour operators, and positive media coverage in the Dutch market throughout the mission.

Group photo from the signing.

Invest Ottawa and The Hague Security Delta renewed an agreement to promote bilateral trade and investment, as part of their respective soft-landing for program for start-ups wishing to establish themselves in the partner market. The Hague Security Delta is one of the largest and continuously growing security networks of businesses, governments and knowledge institutes in Europe. With nearly 300 partners, it is recognized as the security port to Europe. This agreement ensures that Ottawa is connected with the European leaders in security and will result in knowledge sharing, promotion and partnership opportunities for Ottawa’s security sector firms, which are always seeking new opportunities to grow abroad.

Group photo from the signing.

The City of Ottawa, the University of Ottawa and Fontys University of Applied Sciences announced a partnership that will promote academic, economic and research mobility between Ottawa and the Netherlands. As one of the largest universities of applied sciences in the Netherlands, Fontys offers more than 200 academic programs in economics, technology, health care, social work, sports and teacher training to over 44,000 students. This agreement will establish research placements that will support the development of Ottawa’s Nightlife Economy Strategy, with Dutch students finding work placements at the City of Ottawa to conduct research and provide an external perspective on how to grow Ottawa’s nighttime economy, including the musical and cultural spaces that make our city an attractive place for young professionals.

Group photo from the signing, including students.

Many delegates then headed to Brainport, an innovation and business acceleration district in Eindhoven. Brainport – a technology and innovation hub similar to Kanata North in Ottawa – is a driver of Dutch exports and houses half of the national auto sector. This cluster presents opportunities for Ottawa to grow its relationship with companies operating in the Autonomous Vehicles space in the Netherlands by leveraging our Ottawa L5 AV cluster and test-track.

Day 2 (September 16, 2019) – The Hague & Apeldoorn

On the mission’s second day in The Hague, the day started off at the Canadian Embassy in the Netherlands, where Ambassador Sabine Nölke and her team offered the Ottawa delegation a crash course on doing business in the Netherlands, and highlighted the opportunities this represented as a gateway to Northwestern Europe and the European Union.

Later that day, Mayor Watson had the pleasure of meeting Her Royal Highness, Princess Margriet, in the city of Apeldoorn. Mayor Watson expressed his wish for the Princess to visit Ottawa in 2020, to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Liberation of the Netherlands. The Mayor also proposed renaming Fairmont Park, which is in proximity to the Ottawa Civic Hospital, after Princess Margriet, to commemorate her history in Ottawa. Later this fall, the park will feature a dedicated Liberation75 tulip garden, where the City will plant 1,945 tulips, marking the year of the Liberation. The Mayor will bring forward a motion to City Council for the proposal, supported by Ward Councillor Jeff Leiper, when he returns from the mission. The City will receive comments from the public for a 10-day period, starting on September 25.

Mayor Watson and Her Royal Highness, Princess Margriet

Ottawa’s special relationship with the Dutch Royal Family led to the creation one of Canada’s most popular and well-known festivals: the Canadian Tulip Festival.

The Dutch Royal Family took refuge here in Ottawa during the Second World War. In 1943, the Crown Princess Juliana gave birth to Princess Margriet at the Ottawa Civic Hospital. Following the War, the Royal Family presented Ottawa with 100,000 tulip bulbs as a sign of gratitude for its hospitality – and an additional 20,000 tulips in 1946 as a token of appreciation for Canada’s support and wartime efforts.

Canadian Tulip Festival

This tradition continues today, with the Netherlands sending 20,000 tulips each year to Ottawa as a symbol of friendship. Every spring, Ottawa welcomes tens of thousands of visitors from around the world to enjoy these beautiful tulips during the Canadian Tulip Festival. In 2020, the Netherlands will be marking the occasion by repeating the initial gift of 100,000 tulip bulbs to Canada.

The Mayor also laid a wreath at the statue De man met de twee hoeden, the twin to the Ottawa statue Man with Two Hats. The statues, created by Dutch artist Henk Visch, represent the strong ties between our countries and the crucial role that Canadian soldiers played in the liberation of the Netherlands in 1945. The Ottawa statue was gifted to our city by the Netherlands and unveiled by Princess Margriet during her visit to Ottawa in May of 2002.

The Mayor laying the wreath.

Beyond these ties, Mayor Watson also has a personal connection to the Netherlands, as his father, Beverley Watson, fought there during the Second World War. As a member of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Canada, he fought alongside our Canadian soldiers who led the liberation of the Netherlands in 1945. These brave young men and women played a pivotal role in Northwestern Europe. The Royal Regiment is credited with liberating the city of Assen on April 13, 1945 before participating in the clearing of Groningen until April 15, some 20 days before the Netherlands was liberated from German occupation.

For his efforts, Beverley Watson was awarded the France and Germany Star, the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal and Clasp, and the 1939 to 1945 War Medal.

‘’I’m very proud of my father’s service to our nation, and it is an honour for me to visit the country where he served Canada and defended our freedom during the Second World War,’’ said Mayor Watson.

Day 1 (September 15, 2019) – The Hague 

Mayor Watson started the mission in the Netherlands with a meeting with Mayor Pauline Krikke of The Hague, where they discussed their special bond as capital cities, and Mayor Krikke’s previous visit to Ottawa. The two mayors also exchanged best practices on transit and active transportation, and on the challenges that both cities face with respect to affordable housing.

The team from the Canadian Tulip Festival also highlighted the Liberation75 special tulip and programming that will be taking over Ottawa next spring to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands by Canadian forces.

Mayor Krikke, Mayor Watson

In The Hague, as in every city the delegation will visit, the mission’s goals are to:

  • Promote Ottawa as the ideal destination for leisure tourism, events and conventions;
  • Open doors for business partnerships in key areas like autonomous vehicles, technology and defence; and
  • Share best practices in flood prevention, affordable housing, active transportation and the nightlife economy.

Ottawa has a long history of cooperation and friendship with the Netherlands. As the birthplace of Princess Margriet of the Dutch Royal Family and home of the Canadian Tulip Festival, we enjoy a special bond that is strengthened by our economic and cultural ties. The Netherlands is Canada’s fifth largest European trading partner and second largest source of foreign direct investment. And we have much more in common, including our beautiful natural surroundings, strong innovation and technology sectors, and shared values of diversity and inclusion.

To kick off the mission, the delegation gathered for the first time in the Netherlands to learn more about each other and about their objectives throughout the mission.



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