For the second year in a row, Ottawa won’t celebrate its renowned Tulip Festival like it did for 69 years, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But the tulips, which are now Ottawa’s trademark, will be there anyway, blossoming and filling with color the capital’s public parks in May.
“The tulips are local,” is the slogan this year which means that residents of Ottawa are welcome to go see the tulips between May 14-24, while people from other cities and provinces are asked not to travel to Ottawa but to enjoy the festival virtually.
I wasn’t a tulip fan before moving to Ottawa, but during my first Tulip Festival in 2018 I fell so in love with these gorgeous flowers that I haven’t missed any of the festivals since then. Watching large beds of colorful tulips decorating the capital city is quite a magical experience.
But did you know that the tulips are a spring-blooming short-lived flower? I didn’t know that as a newbie. Actually I didn’t know anything about tulips. That’s why I was so shocked and disappointed when I found out that the tulips died after some three weeks. The last days of May are when the once gorgeous tulips look all withered. What a shame!
The weather has always had an impact in the blossoming of the tulips. In May 2018, by the second Sunday of the month (I remember it was Mother’s day), the tulips looked to be in all their glory. The next year, we had a kind of cold spring and when I went to see the tulips, large sections of the plants hadn’t blossomed yet.
This year it seems we’ll be having a warm spring so I imagine that by the start of the festival on May 14th, the tulips will be in full bloom.
The Tulip Festival is the most popular festival in Ottawa, and attracts some 600,000 flower lovers each year. It is organized by the National Capital Commission and the whole thing starts the previous year with the sowing of thousands of tulip bulbs in the fall.
By the beginning of spring the tulip plants have started to sprout. That’s what ‘s happening right now!
Each year the team of gardeners, with landscape specialists, plant the bulbs according to the designs they want to create for each bed of tulips. They always change the varieties and color of the tulips each year, so that for every single festival we have a new display of flowers.
How was the Tulip Festival born? The tulips were a gift from the Netherlands to Ottawa in a gesture of friendship and gratitude after World War II for Canada’s military support and for being the place of birth of Princess Margriet, the only Dutch royal who wasn’t born in the Netherlands but in Ottawa.
In 1940, after the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands the crown princess Julianne, her husband and two little daughters flew to Canada for security reasons. They settled down in Ottawa, where the princess gave birth to her third child three years later.
Princess Margriet’s birth posed a problem. If a Dutch royal were born outside the Netherlands under another nationality, he or she would lose their succession rights, according to Dutch law. So Canada declared the room in the hospital where Princess Margriet was born to be temporarily extraterritorial, so she could acquire Dutch nationality from her mother.
In 1945 when the war finished, Princess Julianne and her family returned to the Netherlands, and in a gesture of gratitude they sent to Ottawa 100,000 tulip bulbs as a gift and promised to send 10,000 bulbs each year.
In 1953 Ottawa started to celebrate the Tulip Festival that nowadays puts in a display of around one million tulips!
Where to see the tulips
The most emblematic spots to see and admire the tulips are Commissioner’s Park in Dow’s Lake, where some 300,000 tulips will be on display, and Major’s Hill Park, the oldest park in Ottawa next to Parliament Hill.
Usually there are also tulips on Parliament Hill but with the current renovation works I’m not sure if they will be there this year. There are also tulips at Lansdowne Park, Garden Promenade, and the Byward Market.
So, if you’re a resident of Ottawa prepare yourself for this amazing exhibition of beauty and color! If you’re not you can follow the festival virtually here: https://tulipfestival.ca/
Long live Ottawa’s Tulip Festival ! Take care.