Each May, tulips abound here in Ottawa. During the Canadian Tulip Festival, over a million bulbs bloom in more than a dozen varieties along the Tulip Route and at Commissioner’s Park beside Dow’s Lake and the Rideau Canal. It’s a stunning sight, but do you know the story behind the profusion of tulips in our capital city?
The festival traces its origins back to World War II. During the German occupation of the Netherlands, the Dutch royal family took refuge in Canada. When Princess Juliana gave birth to Princess Margriet in Ottawa in 1943, the maternity ward of the Civic Hospital (where I was born many years later) was declared to be extraterritorial by the Canadian government, so that the baby’s citizenship could be solely Dutch.
Two years later, Canadian forces led the liberation of the Netherlands from the Germans. Canadian troops brought desperately needed food supplies to the Dutch people, who had suffered terribly during the German occupation (this is how Canadian solider Adam and his Dutch bride Rianne met in my Music Box series). The Netherlands and Canada have had a special relationship ever since, and to this day Canadians are warmly welcomed when they visit there.
In appreciation, Princess Juliana presented 100,000 tulip bulbs to Ottawa, to be planted on the grounds of the Civic Hospital. Juliana became Queen of the Netherlands in 1948, and continued to send thousands of bulbs to Canada each year until her abdication in 1980. In 1953, the Canadian Tulip Festival was created. The festival is the largest of its kind in the world, attracting over 500,000 visitors annually.
Is there a flower festival in your city or town?
If you’re crazy about spring flowers, sign up for our newsletter and see what’s blooming in our gardens this month.