Local Belgians to toast new king on Sunday

This Sunday, Vancouvers quiet Belgian community will have more to toast than their homelands national holiday. July 21 is also the day King of the Belgians Albert II officially abdicates the throne to his son, Crown Prince Philippe.

For some, the abdication of Albert, 79, after his near 20-year reign, is particularity special because it is not associated with tragedy. Freelance journalist and Belgian native Katja De Bock, who has been in Canada for four years, is excited about the upcoming abdication.

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It is happy news to me that the new King Philippe can start his work without a tragedy as the last time, said De Bock.

Former King Baudouin died unexpectedly from a heart attack in 1993 thus bringing younger brother Albert II to the throne. Baudouin had been beloved and was relatively young at 62 years old when he died.

Though there has been political strife and some controversy surrounding the current king, including accusations he fathered a daughter outside of marriage, Albert II announced his abdication on Belgian TV July 3 in both Flemish and French saying his age and health led to his decision to step aside for his 53-year-old son.

Anne Lamont, the president of the Belgian Canadian Association of British Columbia, says participants at the groups annual National Day of Belgium private celebration in Vancouver will raise a toast in honour of the abdication. Personally, Lamont says she is happy for King Albert II. Like most of us, he deserves to retire and enjoy life, she said by email.

Honorary Belgian consul Monique Poncelet-Gheleyns says it is common for people from Belgium to keep such celebrations low-key. A characteristic of Belgians is to not make a show of events from their homeland, she said.

Belgians are really known to assimilate very easily in general, but especially in Canada and there are more Belgians than people can imagine, but they are blending nicely in Canada, said Poncelet-Gheleyns who is also vice-president of Vancouvers Belgian-chocolate destination, Daniel Le Chocolat Belge.

According to Dominique Honhon, embassy of Belgium spokeswoman, there are officially 1,000 registered Belgians in B.C.. Poncelet-Gheleyns says that number is deceptively low because up until 2009, people from Belgium had to give up their Belgian citizenship in order to be Canadians. Four years ago, the rules changed in Belgium, allowing citizens to have dual citizenship.

thuncher@shaw.ca

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