Tulips at Major's Hill Park

Deep historical roots: the Canadian Tulip Festival

Since 1953, Canada’s capital has been hosting the Canadian Tulip Festival, which is now the largest of its kind in the world. This popular annual event attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the globe who long see over a million tulips blanketing the Ottawa region. But the festival’s roots run deeper than the beautiful spring-blooming flower, and echo messages of resiliency and friendship which are more important now than ever. Here’s a brief history of the Canadian Tulip Festival:

An unexpected royal visit

Ottawa’s connection to tulips dates back to World War II. Following the Nazi Invasion of the Netherlands, Princess Juliana of the Netherlands took refuge in Ottawa along with her two young daughters, Princess Beatrix and Princess Irene. While in exile in Canada, Princess Juliana gave birth to her third daughter, Princess Margriet. At the time of the baby’s birth, part of the Ottawa Civic Hospital was declared Dutch soil, to allow the new princess to hold Dutch nationality exclusively. Ottawa also helped to celebrate the princess’ birth by flying the Dutch flag at the top of the iconic Peace Tower and playing Dutch music on the tower’s carillon. Ottawa was home to these Dutch royal family members until they could finally return to a liberated Netherlands in 1945. Canadian troops played a pivotal role in the liberation as well.

A lasting legacy

Upon returning to the Netherlands, Princess Juliana sought to thank Ottawa and the Canadian people with several gifts, including 100,000 tulip bulbs. Since then, the Dutch royal family has sent tulip bulbs to Canada’s capital each year – a lasting gift known as the “Tulip Legacy” which inspired the festival. 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of this Gift of Tulips, and the end of World War II. In honour of this landmark year and lasting friendship, a special Liberation75 tulip was created to represent the relationship between Canada and the Netherlands. 

A festival is born

The first Canadian Tulip Festival in 1953 was led by the Ottawa Board of Trade, at the suggestion of world-renowned photographer Malak Karsh. Karsh is considered the founder of the Festival and his photographs have immortalized the tulip. The tulip was designated Ottawa’s official flower in 2001.

For festival information and programming, visit our Canadian Tulip Festival page.

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