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History

The Ottawa maternity ward that became international territory for the birth of a royal

On January 19, 1943, Princess Margriet became the first, and so far the only, royal to have been born in North America.

  • Jan 18, 2016
  • 344 words
  • 2 minutes
Princess Juliana holds Princess Margriet and sits with her family in Ottawa in 1943. Expand Image
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It’s not often that maternity wards are placed on the same legal footing as some foreign embassies and military bases. But on this day 73 years ago, a tiny corner of the Ottawa Civic Hospital was declared international territory so that a newly born princess could retain her right to the Dutch throne.

On January 19, 1943, Princess Margriet became the first, and so far the only, royal to have been born in Canada.

The Second World War was raging overseas, and Crown Princess Juliana of the Netherlands had fled to Canada following the German invasion of her homeland. Before she gave birth to Princess Margriet, the federal government declared their four-room hospital suite to be temporarily ‘extraterritorial,’ ensuring that the new princess would only have Dutch citizenship, which is passed through the parents, and not also Canadian citizenship, which is given to anyone born on Canadian soil.

Had this special decree not passed, the newborn royal would have lost her place in the line of succession to the throne.

“I got to know the family at home and how close they all were,” Gladys Moorhead, a hospital nurse who cared for Princess Juliana told the CBC in a 1992 broadcast. “They were so happy to be in Canada, away from the dreadful conditions that were in Holland at the time.”

The royal family returned to the Netherlands after spending four years in Canada, but Princess Margriet has visited Canada many times over the years and even received an honorary doctorate from McMaster University in 2012.

“I’ve seen her a few times since she’s come back,” said Moorhead. “She always seems very happy to come back to Canada and see where she was born.”

To thank Canada for its hospitality and help, Juliana donated 100,000 tulip bulbs to the City of Ottawa in 1945, with one request: that some of the flowers be planted on the grounds of the Ottawa Civic Hospital.

Watch the CBC’s 1992 story below.

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