(Delft, the Netherlands)
On August 14, my cousin Paul arranged for us to visit some of our family’s important Dutch places. With Henk as our driver, we started the day with a quick visit to The Hague where we saw a bunch of essential Dutch landmarks: the Mauritshuis, the Peace Palace, the King’s residence, etc. While Amsterdam is officially the Dutch capital, the seat of government is actually in The Hague and the country is effectively run from here.
We also saw a bunch of sights in The Hague that wouldn’t mean too much to a typical tourist, but were very important to my father when he was growing up just south of here in a town called ‘s-Gravenzande. We also saw the famous casino in Scheveningen, where my parents and I enjoyed a mild (but very satisfying) victory almost 30 years ago.
From The Hague, it was only natural that we would visit ‘s-Gravenzande itself. Although it has grown since my childhood visits, it still feels like a small town. We walked around the downtown core and had lunch in a café that my parents used to visit. I took a photograph of the duplex on the Monsterseweg where my grandfather lived next door to my aunt: we always stayed here whenever we visited the Netherlands. The house is no longer in the family but it still feels like “our” house.
As I visited various places around town, I found myself wondering whether I might be related to the people we met. This never happens in Canada but in the Netherlands it is a real possibility. I didn’t see any true doppelgangers but there were many very tall people: by most accounts, the Dutch are the tallest people in the world. My own height doesn’t attract any attention in this country.
After lunch, we walked past a sea of greenhouses and into the seaside dunes. ‘s-Gravenzande is perhaps one kilometre from the sea: the sandy beach stretches from Hoek van Holland (just south of here) north all the way around the Dutch coast. Southwestern Holland is incredibly densely populated but, on the water side of the dunes (see photo at the top of this post), the urban sprawl suddenly disappears.
After ‘s-Gravenzande, we visited the town of Maassluis. My cousins Paul and Ariejan both live here in very modern buildings near the Port of Rotterdam’s waterway. I haven’t seen them too much in recent years so it was great to see them again and spot the family traits I know so well in my father and sister. Maassluis itself has a small but quaint harbour with many historic buildings. The church there is about 400 years old and the keystone was laid by my ancestor Isaac van der Hout. The keystone still clearly shows my ancestor’s name.
I never have this kind of opportunity at home. “Vanderhout” (or “van der Hout”, as it is written in the Netherlands) is a typical Dutch name but is far from a common name in Canada. In fact, many North American Vanderhouts are not related to me at all. Another thing I’ve noticed in the Netherlands is that I never have to spell my name for anybody – I don’t mind doing it in Canada, but it is also kind of nice not having to repeat, spell or explain the proper pronunciation of my name (it rhymes with “out” and “about”).
It felt good to reconnect with my cousins and the towns of my ancestors. I hope to see them again soon and ensure that the connections remain strong.