Feb. 25, 2020
Julie Couture started working as a volunteer for the Anne Frank House at the age of 28; by now, she has organised the travelling exhibition Anne Frank - a history for today in over 80 different Canadian cities.
I was 23 when I arrived in the Netherlands. I didn’t speak the language and the immigration process was intense. As a Canadian, I knew little about my new country, but I wanted to learn more about its history. Years later, because of my passion for history, I decided to become a volunteer at the Anne Frank House. For one of my first assignments, I travelled to Canada to explore the history of the Second World War. This was a key moment in my life. I learned a lot about the reluctance Canada had shown in dealing with Jewish refugees in the 1930s and about other events that they didn’t teach us in school. It's had a big impact on my work.
The first thing that struck me when I arrived in the Netherlands was the enormous gratitude the Dutch felt towards the Canadians who had fought for the freedom of their country. I made an inventory of a total of 385 (commemorative) monuments dedicated to the Canadians in the Netherlands. I know that to many Canadian families, the Netherlands is a special place, because they have family members who are buried here. For the Dutch, it is important to keep remembering them. This part of history forms a strong bond between the Netherlands and Canada.
To bring this to attention in Canada, I initiated a project in which eleven Dutch students and one Canadian student took film clips of how the residents of Ede, Zutphen, and Apeldoorn show their gratitude, for instance by erecting and caring for war monuments. This year, these short films will be shown in Canada in the context of the celebrations surrounding the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands. It will give Canadian students some idea of the Dutch gratitude.
As coordinator of our educational projects in Canada, I have so far set up the travelling exhibition Anne Frank, a history for today, in five Canadian provinces and the Yukon Territory - over 80 different cities in all. And wherever I went, from Stratford to Edmonton and from Vancouver Island to Saint-Hilaire, I met Dutch people. Dutch people who chose to live in my home country, the opposite of what I did. It’s always extremely interesting to hear their stories, because, in a way, we share a special bond!
Over the past 9 years, I have met many people and discovered many ties between these two countries that I love. I have learned a lot about the history of my own country, especially about the fate of the indigenous people of Canada. I look forward to the exhibition translated into Inuktitut that will be presented to the Inuit community of Nunavut for the first time later this year. It’s our way of making Anne's powerful story accessible to everyone, while at the same time helping to preserve the languages of the first inhabitants of Canada. Together, we are working towards a better future.
The best part of my work is that I get to tell thousands of young people from Canada about this part of Dutch history; a black period for the Netherlands that most Canadians have only learned about from books. Still, this shared history has created an enduring bond between Canada and the Netherlands. This bond is reflected in my daily work and my life - and I will always cherish it.