“Maple Leaf City,” Belgium Honours Canadian Soldiers During Canada Week

Every year since the Second World War, a small coastal town in Belgium is adorned with thousands of Canadian flags.

Even though it’s thousands of miles away, the town of Knokke-Heist, Belgium, pays homage to Canada every year because the 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade liberated it on Nov. 1, 1944, during The Battle of The Scheldt.

Knokke-Heist was one of the last towns liberated in Belgium.

To pay gratitude to the Canadian soldiers who liberated them from the Nazi occupation every year, from Oct. 30 to Nov. 6, the town celebrates Canada Week.

Lieutenant W.A. Bowman placing a sign naming Winters Bridge, a temporary bridge across the Antwerp Canal named in memory of the late Lance-Corporal Winters of the 11th Field Squadron, Royal Canadian Engineers (R.C.E.), Lochtenberg, Belgium, 4 October 1944. Photo by Ken Bell. Image 1270. Image courtesy of Library and Archives Canada.

The Liberation of Knokke-Heist, Belgium

Located near the North Sea and bordering the Netherlands, Knokke-Heist was occupied by German forces at the beginning of the Second World War.

In 1944, Allied Forces launched a mission to free access to the port of Antwerp. The First Canadian Army, was charged with this mission, which included members from Stormont, Dundas, and Glengarry Highlanders.

To open up shipping routes to Antwerp, the First Canadian Army led a series of military operations that became known as the Battle of the Scheldt. It was during this Battle that the town of Knokke-Heist was liberated.

It didn’t come without a cost, however. More than 1,000 Canadians, and other Allied soldiers, lost their lives during this liberation.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission New Irish Farm Cemetery in West-Vlaanderen, Belgium. Image courtesy of Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Honouring the Fallen

To honour the soldiers who lost their lives in liberating their town, the people of Knokke-Heist decorate their homes with Canadian flags during Canada Week.

“The Mayor of Knokke-Heist, Piet Degroote, and his Council encourage the inhabitants to decorate their homes with the Canadian Maple Leaf Flags.

“This is in honour and gratitude for The Fallen Liberators, young men between the age of 17 to 30 years, all peacefully buried at the Canadian War Cemetery in Adegem, Flanders. It breaks one’s heart when you stand in front of their graves to salute them,” stated Danny and Fred Jones, curators For Freedom Museum, located in Knokke-Heist.

The men are sons of a British Second World War veteran.

According to the press release, “No town in the world is decorated with more Maple Leaf Flags than Knokke-Heist during the Canada Week, that is why our Mayor Piet Degroote is so proud to name Knokke-Heist, “Maple Leaf City.”

Hundreds of Canadians, including the Canadian ambassador, visit Knokke-Heist during this time every year.

Canada Week will culminate in the 48th Canadian Liberation March, which is 33 km long. It is all organized by the local historical society “Cnocke is Hier,” the For Freedom Museum, and the Town Council of Knokke-Heist.

For Freedom Museum displays more than 120 mannequins dressed in military outfits and depicts 19 war scenes involving Canadian soldiers.

The For Freedom Museum

Opened in 2009 by a Canadian veteran, Adrien Boivin, Régiment de la Chaudière, from Chicoutimi, the For Freedom Museum highlights the Battle of Scheldt and Operation Switchback.

The museum displays more than 120 mannequins dressed in military outfits and depicts 19 war scenes involving Canadian soldiers.

According to the press release, the museum celebrated its 100,000th visitor in August.

“The For Freedom Museum has a long-lasting relation with Canada and was honoured in 2017 with the Governor General David Johnston’s Medallion at Essex farm Cemetery, where John MacCrae, wrote his famous poem ‘In Flanders Fields, the poppies blow,'” stated the release.

In 2012 the Jones’ brothers encouraged the Knokke-Heist population to hang the Canadian flag along the fronts of their home. “Since then over 1,000 flags have been bought by our civilians in honour of the 1,000 Canadians who sacrificed their life for our liberation,” Danny shared to the Sudbury Star in 2020.

Visit here for more information about the For Freedom Museum.

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Mishall Rehman

Originally from Atlanta, GA, Mishall is a freelance journalist pursuing her passion for writing in her new homeland Canada. She currently lives in Trenton, ON with her husband.

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