Canadian Tulip Festival springs to life in Ottawa


Ottawa’s tulip legacy is tied to the Dutch royal family. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

Story by Tricia Edgar
Vacay.ca Outdoors Columnist

OTTAWA, ONTARIO — There’s no need to tiptoe. In fact, you’ll want to leap, prance, and tango your way down the rows of tulips at this year’s Tulip Festival in Ottawa.

While Ottawa celebrates winter with Winterlude and skating on the Rideau Canal, there comes a time when people feel done with the snow and the cold and yearn for a little bit of spring. That is when the tulips start to bloom.

The Canadian Tulip Festival runs from May 4-21, and celebrates the blooming of the tulips across the city. The festival is so well known that the tulip has become the image of Ottawa in the spring. In May, Major’s Hill Park, Commissioners Park, and even the Parliament buildings have a spread of blooms. The beauty of this tulip-strewn landscape draws photographers from all over the world. Whether the tulips are planted along a pathway at Dow’s Lake or in a box at the busy Byward Market, May in Ottawa means that waves of tulips cascade over the landscape, drawing visitors into a fairyland of colour.


Where do all of these tulips come from? While Ottawa’s flowers may not have much to do with fairies, they’re certainly connected to princesses. In 1943, Dutch Princess Margriet was born at Ottawa Civic Hospital. During her birth, the Canadian government briefly ceded the hospital to Holland to allow her to be born in Dutch territory. In thanks for providing refuge for the Royal Family during the Second World War and in appreciation for the Canadian contribution to the liberation of Holland, the Dutch royal family sent 100,000 tulip bulbs to Canada. Since then, 20,000 additional bulbs have arrived every year, adding beauty to the nation’s capital. The festival began in 1953.

This year’s Tulip Festival features eclectic events across the city to draw everyone into the celebrations. A tulip-themed treasure hunt teases visitors into exploring many different Ottawa neighbourhoods. Local restaurants serve up tulip-themed dishes. On Mother’s Day, the most floral of occasions, there’s a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party in the Byward Market area. Families can drink tea and wander the market in their homemade festive hats. This year’s Tulip Festival also provides a prelude to the Van Gogh: Up Close exhibit at the National Gallery, with tulip beds in Major’s Hill Park inspired by the colours and lines of Van Gogh. On May 20, the festival finishes with a fabulous display of fireworks at Dow’s Lake.

As the festival approaches, the tulips are standing tall in spite of some warm spring weather. “You have to be an optimist to plant tulips,” says Jantine Van Kregten, director of communications for Ottawa Tourism. Over the years, the National Capital Commission’s plant-wranglers have perfected a planting schedule of early, mid-season, and late-blooming varieties so that there are always tulips to see. Astute planning is especially important on years like this one, when a warm blast of summer arrived in the Ottawa area in March.

How can you get to the Tulip Festival? Local hop-on, hop-off bus companies add the tulips to their schedule so that tourists can have easy access to all of the festival sites. For a list of festival sites and events, look at the Canadian Tulip Festival’s website: tulipfestival.ca.

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