In May, more than a million tulips carpeted the Canadian capital, Ottawa. It’s a lovely custom with origins in an exiled princess, an industry titan, and a world-renowned photographer, but for locals, it’s just a cherished moment. This is our year. The World’s Largest Tulip Festival Canada will celebrate its 70th anniversary from May 13 to 23, 2022, and is the world’s largest festival of its kind. Here’s how it all began and what guests should expect this year.
Almost of Ottawa residents attribute the tulip tradition to Dutch royalty, and they are mostly correct. During World War II, Canada hosted the exiled Dutch heiress Princess Juliana. The princess is well-liked by her Ottawa neighbors, who insist on treating her like any other woman whose husband is fighting in Europe. However, the arrival of a third daughter, Princess Margriet, necessitated some more preparation. The Ottawa Civic Hospital’s obstetrics section was declared out-of-state so that the newborn would not lose its place in the Dutch line of succession. Her birth on January 19, 1943, was a rare ray of sunshine in an otherwise bleak world. The Netherlands gave Canada 100,000 tulip bulbs in 1945 as a thank you for protecting the royal family and for the crucial role Canadians played in liberating the Netherlands during the war. The next year, Princess Juliana delivered 20,500 more bulbs, and the practice of gift-giving has continued ever since.
The 1945 Dutch shipment, however, was not Ottawa’s first gift of tulips. Between 1941 and 1943, Richard Seymour Cobley, a titan of the British commercial flower industry, donated 83,000 tulip bulbs to honor Canadians for their unwavering war efforts. Ottawa became recognized for its colorful splendour as a result of his generosity and Dutch gratitude. Malak Karsh, a world-renowned photographer and Ottawa native, made tulips his passion, and the Canadian Tulip Festival was founded in 1953 at his suggestion.
The World’s Largest Tulip Festival Canada has become a legendary event over the last 70 years. Some of the biggest names in music, including Alanis Morissette, performed on the festival’s main stage. Symposiums have featured presentations by well-known thinkers such as Salmon Rushdie and Jared Diamond. Over the years, prominent dignitaries have attended, including President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, who visited Ottawa during the 1961 tulip season. However, the festival’s focus has shifted since 2019. The goal currently, under the direction of chief executive Jo Riding, is to “rekindle” the event by returning it to its roots: heritage and horticulture.
The year 2022 is set aside to remember the locals who perished during the liberation of the Netherlands. The “Ghosts of Glebe” nightly walking tour takes tourists around Ottawa’s Glebe district, recounting stories of young men who died in duty. “It’s critical that we keep telling the tale so that future generations don’t forget,” Riding added. And many people, even locals, are unaware of the story. So we must continue our objective of commemorating and celebrating our warriors and their contributions to the liberation of the Netherlands.”
Tours are only one of the many nighttime activities available. Select flower beds in Commission Park, home to roughly one-third of Ottawa’s tulips, will be illuminated at night for the first time. In the evenings, guests can watch outdoor screenings of Canadian Film Board films. The actual action, though, is taking place just a few feet away on the Dow’s Lake boardwalk.
In a unique aesthetic design, 16 unusual plants have been planted along the boardwalk and are illuminated by black lights. The goal of this presentation is to show the flowers through the eyes of pollinators. “Bees and butterflies and all those guys see in the UV spectrum,” Riding explains. So what’s interesting is that whereas we merely itch and sneeze, they can see pollen all over the place.” She claims that the pale bulbs, which come in white, cream, and pale pink tones, were chosen specifically for how well they work under black light, and that the flower bed will be unlike any other.
Three exceptional tulip spots should be on everyone’s itinerary during the World’s Largest Tulip Festival Canada, whether explored during the day or at night. The first was at Queen Juliana’s gift bed in Commission Park. Most of the tulips supplied by the Netherlands each year are cultivated here, and it is a wonderful opportunity to symbolize the two countries’ longstanding affinity.
The second is a short distance away at the Civic Hospital. Tulips from the annual contribution are also displayed in this tiny bed. Princess Juliana’s initial 1946 donation included the requirement that a bed of tulips is planted at the hospital.
Finally, traveling downtown is worthwhile not only to see the tulips adorn Parliament Hill and other government buildings such as Ottawa City Hall, the National War Memorial, and so on. The lovely flower carpet of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church is your destination. Princess Margriet was baptized at this church. Every year, the church receives 100 bulbs from the Dutch embassy. “We are open to guests and tourists during the summer, with a couple of us as guides, and as we relate the narrative of the Lord Margriet, a lot of people had never heard of it, or tulips,” said Elizabeth Phillipson, an Elder of St. Andrew and a volunteer archivist. Because few people in Ottawa are aware of the history of this flowerbed, you’ll be one of the festival’s most well-connected attendees if you go.
Where to see flowers in Ottawa during the Canadian Tulip Festival:
- Commission Park: Preston Street and, Queen Elizabeth Driveway, Ottawa, ON K1S 4N7, Canada
- Dow Lake Boardwalk: 1001 Queen Elizabeth Driveway, Ottawa, ON K1S 5K7, Canada
- Ottawa Administrative Hospital: 1053 Carling Ave, Ottawa, ON K1Y 4E9, Canada
- Parliament Hill: Wellington St, Ottawa, ON K1A 0A9, Canada
- Andrew’s Presbyterian Church: 82 Kent St, Ottawa, ON K1P 5N9, Canada
- History Museum: 100 Laurier St, Gatineau, Quebec K1A 0M8, Canada
- Ottawa City Hall: 110 Laurier Ave W, Ottawa, ON K1P 1J1, Canada
- National War Memorial: Wellington St, Ottawa, ON K1P 5A4, Canada
- Confederation Park: Elgin St, Ottawa, ON K1P 5J2, Canada
- Grounds of the Supreme Court of Canada: 301 Wellington St, Ottawa, ON K1A 0J1, Canada
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