The Tulip Legacy Story
A Princess is Born
A celebration founded on friendship
The world's largest tulip festival, now encompassing an 18-day celebration each May, was established in 1953 to preserve the heritage of Canada's role in liberating the Dutch during the Second World War. The symbolic tulip – Ottawa's official flower – was given as a gift in perpetuity to the Canadian people for having provided safe harbour to the Dutch Royal Family during the German Occupation of the Netherlands. The tulip remains a valuable symbol of friendship and of spring, with special meaning to the people of Canada and its National Capital Region.
The mandate of The Canadian Tulip Festival is to preserve this heritage and celebrate the symbolic tulip by engaging local organizers, volunteers, artists, performers, tourists and festival-goers in what has become an annual rite of spring and one of North America's best-loved and best-known cultural events.
As the official gardener of Canada's Capital, the National Capital Commission (NCC) is responsible for designing, planting and maintaining the impressive tulip displays. The most spectacular of these can be viewed at Commissioners Park on the banks of Dows Lake, where nearly 300,000 tulips in 60 different varieties bloom each year in 30 flower beds.
The Significance of the Tulip
In May of 1940, following the Nazi Invasion of the Netherlands, Queen Wilhelmina and the Dutch Royal Family were spirited out of the country to rule in exile from the United Kingdom. The following month, Princess Juliana brought daughters Princess Beatrix and Princess Irene to the safe harbour of Canada, arriving by ship in Halifax before proceeding to Ottawa, where mother and children were housed at Stornoway -- now the official residence of the Leader of the Opposition.
January 19, 1943, while in exile in Canada, Princess Juliana gave birth to daughter Princess Margriet at the Ottawa Civic Hospital, which was temporarily declared extraterritorial by the Government of Canada, to ensure the princess would hold exclusively Dutch, rather than dual nationality. (The latter would have affected her status in the line of succession for the Dutch throne; Princess Margriet remains the only royal personage ever to be born within North America.) At the news of the princess's birth, the Dutch flag was flown atop the Peace Tower and Dutch music rang out from its carillon. Overseas, the princess's birth was seen by the Dutch as an important symbol of hope and source of inspiration.
May 2, 1945, following five years in exile in Canada, Princess Juliana and her children were reunited with Queen Wilhelmina in the liberated part of the Netherlands. As a show of gratitude for her stay in Canada, and for Canadian soldiers' role in the liberation of her homeland, Princess Juliana presented to the people of Canada a number of gifts, including 100,000 tulip bulbs. The following year, an additional 20,500 bulbs were received in Canada, with a request to plant them on the grounds of the Ottawa Civic Hospital.
Juliana, who became Queen of the Netherlands in 1948, continued to send a gift of thousands of tulip bulbs to Canada each year during her reign, which ended with her abdication in April 1980 and the beginning of the reign of Queen Beatrix.
A Festival is Born!
The arrival of Princess Juliana's gift of tulips generated great interest, curiosity and admiration among Canadians and the magnificent display of tulips quickly became a treasured tourist attraction in the Nation's Capital. Stunning pictures became a springtime ritual in newspapers and magazines nationwide, in turn inspiring events centred on the annual arrival of a blossoming number of tulips of many colours.
In 1953, at the suggestion of world-renowned photographer Malak Karsh, The Ottawa Board of Trade spearheaded the creation of a Canadian Tulip Festival, to be held each May in Canada's Capital. A celebration of the arrival of spring as well as a commemoration of the significance of the tulip and its wartime connection in Canada, the festival has grown each year to become the largest of its kind in the world, attracting over 500,000 visitors annually.
In addition to providing entertainment and activities for all ages, the festival has welcomed notable guests -- including Queen Juliana, who visited during Canada's centennial year in 1967, as well as Princess Margriet, who returned in 2002 for the 50th edition of the annual event. Today, over 1 million bulbs bloom throughout the Tulip Route.