Dutch Ambassador Henk van der Zwan bids Canada adieu

His Excellency Mr. Henk van der Zwan, Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands bids Canada adieu and will be succeeded by Ms. Ines Coppoolse, who has been the Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Sweden.

After four winters in Canada, Henk van der Zwan will become the Head of Mission at the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Paramaribo in Suriname. The entire Dutch Embassy network thanks him for his incredible leadership and friendship over the years. Before he left, we asked him a few last questions.

©Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands

After serving a term of 4 years as the Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Canada, how have you experienced your time here?

Four years in Ottawa seem to have gone by like four months! Time flies when you are having a good time. But then again, it really must have been four years because I distinctly remember four winters. In our service, the ambassadorship in Ottawa is a really covetable position. This I discovered about a year ago when colleagues started to call me to enquire whether I was really leaving in the summer of 2020. Working and living in Ottawa has been great. The access that you have as Dutch ambassador to the federal administration is unparalleled because of the good relations our countries enjoy.

Planting ceremony in Prince Edward Island
Image: Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands

How would you characterize the bilateral relations between Canada and the Netherlands?

Canada and the Netherlands enjoy the best of relations, both bilaterally as well as in the multilateral domain. To start with, more than one million Canadians are of Dutch descent. Now that creates a bond. Then, of course, the fact that my country was liberated from Nazi oppression in 1944/1945 by Canadian armed forces is something that will never be forgotten. More than 7600 Canadian servicemen and women, who paid the highest price for our freedom, are buried in the Netherlands. We honour their memory and will never forget their sacrifice. Built on this we have forged a strong relationship, as we share a multitude of common values, like our respect for human rights, respect for civil liberties, a strong rules based international order, free and equitable trade and we have been working together in various peacekeeping operations. In other words, Canada and the Netherlands see eye to eye on all the major issues that we are faced with.

©Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands

What are you most proud of in terms of what you have been able to achieve over the past 4 years?

Two bilateral visits come to my mind in particular. One is the hugely successful visit of our Prime Minister Mark Rutte in 2018, where he was granted the extraordinary honour of addressing both houses of Parliament, thus being the first Dutch Prime Minister ever to do so. And then of course the visit of HRH Princess Margriet and her husband that same year. You know that Princess Margriet was born in Ottawa in January 1943, when the Royal Family found refuge in Canada during the dark days of the war. When the Royal Family returned back home in 1945 the then Crown Princess Juliana donated tens of thousands of tulip bulbs as a token of gratitude for the safe haven that she and her family had found in Ottawa. This is the origin of the Canadian Tulip Festival, the world’s largest tulip festival.

How is it for you to say your goodbyes in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic?

During my four year’s stay in Canada, I have had the privilege to meet and get to know many wonderful Canadian people from all over Canada and from all walks of life. I had hoped to travel Canada this spring to attend commemorative festivities for the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands. Alas, because of the COVID-19 pandemic this did not materialize. Although we have managed to stage many activities on a virtual basis on social media, I sincerely believe this can never be a substitute for the real life event.  So, for me this situation feels like cold turkey, to be quite frank. Be that as it may, I am leaving Canada with a deep sense of gratitude for the fact that I have been given the opportunity to contribute to the good relations between our two great countries.