Ottawa in Bloom: The Canadian Tulip Festival celebrates its 70th anniversary with nearly a million bulbs and a host of new activities


This spring, nearly a million tulip bulbs will cover Ottawa in a sea of ​​red, yellow, orange, pink, purple and white. The Canadian Tulip Festival (May 13-23) will mark its 70th anniversary, and this year’s celebration includes extended hours, new activities and unique exhibits commemorating the special relationship that first inspired the event.

After the end of World War II, Canada received 100,000 tulip bulbs from the Netherlands in 1945. It was a generous gift to thank Canadians for hosting Princess Juliana and her young family in Ottawa from 1940 to 1945, and a gesture of gratitude for the central role in the liberation of the Netherlands.

Princess Juliana donated an additional 20,500 bulbs the following year, and a heartfelt tradition was born. The colorful flowers served as a muse to local resident and renowned photographer Malak Karsh, who suggested the idea of ​​hosting an annual festival at the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce. Launched in 1953, the Canadian Tulip Festival is now the largest event of its kind in the world.

When Jo Riding became general manager of the festival in 2019, she wanted to re-anchor the event in heritage and horticulture. Celebrating ties between Canada and the Netherlands is a priority for Riding, which describes the relationship between the two countries as “an international friendship like no other.”

This year’s festival features a wonderful display of oil paintings on wood by artist Bev Tosh as well as details from Canadian Heritage honoring Dutch war brides who came to Canada. Their stories are both romantic and edgy, and Tosh’s artistry celebrates their wit and ingenuity. Keep an eye out for the story of a bride who made her own wedding dress from upcycling a very unexpected material.

Nearly a third of the festival’s million tulips bloom in Commissioners Park in central Ottawa. For the first time this year, the Canadian Tulip Festival will extend its hours past dusk and remain open until 11 p.m. Many tulip beds will be illuminated, and after-hours activities include outdoor screenings of National Film Board of Canada films, such as “Boréalis” and “The Sweater.”

Nearly one million tulip bulbs will cover Ottawa as the festival celebrates its 70th anniversary.

However, the star of the new evening lineup is unquestionably the Blacklight Boardwalk. Sixteen long tulip planters will line the Dows Lake Boardwalk next to Commissioners Park. Each planter will be illuminated with black light, demonstrating what the flowers would look like to bees, which see via the UV spectrum.

“When the pollen bursts from the flowers, it looks like a Jackson Pollock (paint), shining all over, and that’s what pollinators see when they come out to do their job,” says Riding, describing the display as looking like both entertaining and educational. .

Riding expects great turnout this year and thinks locals will be especially looking forward to celebrating the beauty of Ottawa. “After everything we went through in January, we feel like we are reclaiming our city, reclaiming our flower,” she says. “It’s our park; it’s our thing.

She also remembers the words of the founder of the festival. “Malak said that when the tulips came out after the war, they brought color back to a world that was still gray. And I feel like there’s so much like that going on this year, ( as) we come out of this global pandemic,” she says. “I think flowers are more important than ever.”


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