Every May, hundreds of thousands of tulips burst into bloom and Ottawa kicks off the Canadian Tulip Festival. As a newcomer to Ottawa, I have to admit that at first, I didn't really understand the city's excitement for this festival. However, after a long Canadian winter, and after a little research into the background of tulips in Ottawa, I can safely say that I now share the Ottawan enthusiasm for the Tulip Festival! Plus, it combines two of my favourite things: history and gardening. What's not to love?
Tulips have a fascinating history in the western world, particularly in the Netherlands. In the 1630s, 'Tulip Mania' took hold, with single bulbs selling for outrageous prices, sometimes even 10 times that of a craftsman's annual salary. This economic bubble burst, of course, with huge economic consequences - all because of tulips. These flowers, while more affordably priced now, are still iconic in the culture of the Netherlands.
Canada's history meets up with the Netherlands' very significantly during World War II, for a couple of reasons. Queen Juliana and her two children sought refuge in Canada starting in 1940, with her third child, Princess Margriet, born in Ottawa in 1943. Margriet was the first (and to date, the only) European royal born in North America, and her hospital room was declared extraterritorial so that she would have citizenship exclusively in the Netherlands. On the European front, Canadian forces were the first to cross the Rhine into the Netherlands during the 1945 liberation that marked the beginning of the end of the war.
To show her nation's gratitude after the war, Queen Juliana sent a gift of 100,000 tulip bulbs to Canada in 1945, and continued to send thousands more every year for the rest of her reign. The tulips began to draw huge crowds every spring, and in 1953, the Canadian Tulip Festival officially began. Today, more than a million tulips bloom in Ottawa every spring, attracting over 500,000 visitors each year.
People had told me about the tulips, but hearing about it and even seeing pictures hadn't prepared me for the incredible number of flowers (over one million!) blooming in the city - what a way to welcome spring! I walked up to the Parliament lawn, along the Rideau Canal, and to the Commissioner's Park by Dow's Lake (among other places). And of all the hundreds of thousands of tulips in around sixty varieties, one stood out as my favourite: the Canada 150. This lovely red and white tulip was developed especially for Canada's 150th birthday and debuted this spring, so excited Canadians (like myself) can buy bulbs this fall and deck out our gardens in time for 2017. So, if you've never checked out the Ottawa Tulip Festival before, mark it on your calendars for next May! Come meet me in Ottawa and prepare to fall in love :)