Karen Hunter is calling on descendants of the Second World War, particularly those who participated in the Liberation of the Netherlands, to join her to walk in the footsteps of Canadian troops in the Netherlands.
The walk that begins in May 2020 will commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Dutch liberation where Canadian troops freed the Netherlands from Nazi occupation.
“We are the next generation—the baby boomers—and it’s now up to us to carry the remembrance torch,” she says.
The challenge is reaching those descendants - many of whom have settled in small communities like Orillia.
Hunter says In Our Fathers’ Footsteps will be an educational, cultural, spiritual experience inspired by the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage where participants will have a chance to honour those who engaged in the deadly battle.
“I hope to attract 200 descendants from across Canada who, like me, want to honour these 175,000 Canadian veterans,” says Hunter.
She says the decision to organize this entire event was triggered by a curiosity to learn more about her father.
Karen Hunter’s father, Gilbert Hunter, was a Dutch liberation veteran from the Second World War, and she says he never spoke about it. When he turned 80 years old in 1999, her father gave her a book of memoirs chronicling his journey in the war.
In his memoir, Hunter says there were many events from the battle missing and when her father died in 2009, she was left with a yearning to bridge gaps of information.
“It was sort of my first journey toward self-discovery and self-reflection,” says Hunter.
And so she climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and walked the Camino Santiago. She even walked in the Himalayas and stayed at a shrine and came to the conclusion that she must walk in the footsteps of her father’s journey in the Netherlands to be at peace.
“I don’t know whether it was when he gave me the book on his birthday or when I climbed Kilimanjaro or when I walked the Camino, but the seed had been planted that I would use those memoirs as a map or a guide to walk his journey,” Hunter explained.
And so she began to research for other war diaries through Veteran Affairs Canada, found chronicles of her father in them and pieced it together with other parts of the puzzle to create a unique experience.
With the help of the Van Der Meij Family, a Dutch family in the Netherlands, she organized the places, times and events to make this walk memorable not just for her, but for everyone participating.
The experience will take the group on a 60-kilometre walk of researched routes of the first, second and third Canadian divisions in platoons with professional guides.
During the routes, they will take part in candlelight vigils, participate in flower ceremonies at Canadian war cemeteries and monuments, attend official Dutch remembrance ceremonies and celebrate the veterans’ legacy of freedom and friendship with Dutch residents at liberation festivals.
Hunter says along the way, they will eat from mess kits, plant maple saplings and dedicate a memory box of veteran memories.
“The highlight will be our walk, as a large contingent, with Canadian flags and a military band, into Het Loo Palace in Apeldoorn where we’ll be met by Princess Margriet,” says Hunter.
The 13-day journey leaves Canada on April. 29 and returns to Canada on May 7. and May 11.
Excited about this journey, Hunter says she always knew she would go on this walk, it was just a matter of when.
She says her father participated in the 1985 and 1995 anniversary celebration in the Netherlands, and it only seemed appropriate to go back there to celebrate her father for the 75th milestone of the liberation coming up next year.
“Now is the time. This is a whole new thing for me because I always travel alone,” says Hunter.
More information about the event can be found here.