Orchid-growing brothers Neil and Mike van Steekelenburg in Beamsville, Ont., welcomed their Majesties King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima of The Netherlands to their CosMic Plants greenhouse during the royal couple’s official state visit to Canada in May.
Mike said networking with representatives of The Royal Dutch Embassy at a previous trade event in Florida made the initial connection for this visit. When the embassy was scouting for a horticultural business in southern Ontario for a trade delegation, he said, “I guess we fit the set of criteria that they had.”
Neil and Mike and their families guided the king and queen and the accompanying Dutch trade mission through a tour of their greenhouse operation, and then welcomed them for high tea catered by chef Jan-Willem Stulp of The Grand Oak in Vineland. Kiara van Steekelenburg, 8, had the honour of presenting the queen with a bouquet of orchids crafted by Neil’s wife, Mary.
“We do feel very honored [to be selected]. But we also are a little bit overwhelmed because there are so many nice greenhouses in Niagara, and so many are [of] Dutch heritage,” Mike said. “So we are hoping to represent the whole industry well.”
The van Steekelenburg brothers emigrated from Holland to Canada in 2004, establishing their business that same year. Their parents, Cor and Paula van Steekelenburg, still reside in Naaldwijk, the Netherlands, and came to Beamsville for this royal visit. Also attending the high tea were municipal, provincial, and federal politicians, state officials from Holland, and Ontario floral industry representatives, including Jan and Fabiola Prins and Ian Vermeer.
“I am honored to have been invited to this event,” Vermeer said. “Interestingly enough, my father [a Dutch immigrant], met the king’s grandmother, Queen Juliana, when she visited Canada.”
Mike and his family attend Providence Christian Reformed Church in Beamsville, and Neil and his family attend a local Roman Catholic church. Vermeer and the Prins family are also CRC members.
Bill and Nel van Geest, members of Rehoboth Fellowship CRC in Toronto, also met the king and queen. It was an invitation-only event at the Art Gallery of Ontario. The van Geests obtained their invitation by lottery of applicants who were Dutch-born. “[It was] a fine event reconnecting us to our Dutch roots. King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima personally greeted all of us 350 Dutch Canadians,” Bill said. “[They were] warm and engaging and very unpretentious even in their formal and demanding royal roles.”
The state visit, King Willem-Alexander’s first to Canada, was at the invitation of Canada’s Governor General, the Right Honourable David Johnston, as part of the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Holland during World War II.
After Ontario, the royal couple flew to Grand Rapids, Mich., where they were greeted at the airport by a choir of students from Ada Christian School.