I’ve learned that there are lot of places in the world with fields of tulips and spring festivals. Ottawa is one of many destinations around the world that erupts in colour every spring, but it is the story of how the tulips came to be there which makes Canada’s tulip festival particularly unique.
This story is little known around the world, and it’s surprising how many of the locals haven’t heard it. It’s one of my favourite stories from Canadian history. I’ve written it out here so you can enjoy the touching story of how the Tulip Festival came about.
Why Ottawa Has a Tulip Festival
In 1943, the Dutch Royal Family was in Ottawa. World War II was raging, and the family had come to Canada for safety. During her stay in Canada, Princess Juliana was to give birth to a daughter, who would be named Princess Margriet.
It was important to the Royal Family that the Princess be born only as Dutch Citizen. Canada offered a solution, and declared the maternity ward of the Ottawa Civic Hospital Dutch territory for the birth. On that day, a Dutch flag was raised above Parliament. The Princess was born on Dutch territory in the hear of Ottawa, and inherited only Dutch citizenship.
In 1945, the grateful Royal Family sent 100,000 tulip bulbs to Ottawa. Juliana sent another 20,500 bulbs the following year, and requested that a festival be held. 10,000 bulbs followed every year after.
Ottawa became famous for it’s beautiful tulips, and in 1953 the first official Canadian Tulip Festival was held. The tulips were originally planted in large bunches of one colour, so as to be visually pleasing from the road as people drove by. Today, the beds are a multitude of colour, and thousands of people come to walk among them every year.
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Where to see the tulips in Ottawa
The Canadian Tulip Festival has various sites across the city, and many different events, performances, and concerts take place over the course of the festival. The tulips are all over the city, in flower boxes down town, along bike paths, and in beautiful, wide flower beds at the festival venues. Where to see the tulip beds.
- Major’s Hill Park
- Dow’s Lake
Where to see art, performances, and fireworks (check for dates).
- Landsdowne Pavillion (entry $15 CAD)
Other beautiful locations with tulips.
- In front of the Parliament Buildings.
- Surrounding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
- Along the Rideau Canal
- The festival runs for 2 weeks, ending on the May long weekend. It’s best to come the weekend before, or on a week day. The May long weekend is incredibly busy, with more people than tulips.
- Go out on a rainy day to have the tulips to yourself. They’re just as beautiful and vibrant on a grey day.
- Dow’s Lake and Major Hill Park are free.
- Landsdowne includes vendors, performances, and more, and entry costs $15 for the day.
Have you seen the tulips in Ottawa, or elsewhere in the world? What do you think of the story of the Tulip Festival? Leave a comment below!