You know that spring has finally arrived when the tulips along Ottawa’s Rideau Canal are in full bloom. Canadian spring is usually a finicky season that teeters on the dividing line between winter and summer, like a cat in front of an open door who can’t decide whether to go outside or not. Every year in May, Ottawa holds the Canadian Tulip Festival, painting the city in warm vivid colours with thousands of tulips and daffodils.
This festival is the biggest of its kind and was first held in 1953. The roots of the Tulip Festival go even further back, all the way to World War Two, when Canada hosted Holland’s royal family while they were in exile from their homeland. While they were in Canada, Princess Juliana gave birth to a baby girl at the Ottawa Civic Hospital, which was temporarily declared Dutch territory so that the baby princess could retain Dutch nationality. In gratitude and in recognition of the bravery of Canadian troops overseas, the Dutch royal family presented Canada with a number of gifts, among them 100 000 tulips. When Princess Juliana became queen she continued to send Canada tulips every year and eventually this grew into the festival that exists today.
With over a million tulips on display across Ottawa the festival is truly a magnificent sight. The biggest flowerbeds can be found along the Rideau Canal near Dow’s Lake and over the course of ten days the tulips draw in thousands of visitors. There is plenty to do at the festival on a nice summer day and lots of people take advantage of the boat rentals at Dow’s Lake to take a canoe or a paddleboat out on the water to admire the flowers from afar.
The Tulip Festival puts on performances by dance groups and musicians, as well as providing fun activities for kids like face painting. There are many food vendors scattered around the park to feed any craving, from hotdogs to giant lollipops and of course ice-cream. With all this going on there is almost a carnivalesque feel to the Tulip Festival.
Seas of red, orange, yellow and everything in between serve as the backdrop to numerous family photos. People come out en masse armed with cameras of all sizes — some take photos with their iphones, others go the full distance and mount their cameras onto tripods — I have never seen so many photographers in one place before. The Tulip Festival is flooded with people and it really gives you a sense of just how strong multiculturalism is in Canada. I love walking among the flowerbeds surrounded by people talking excitedly in every language imaginable.
There are over 50 different kinds of tulips at the festival and the diversity is amazing! Some tulips have so many petals that they look almost like roses. Others have broad petals like poppies, pointed like stars or ruffled like feathers. The variety of shapes is only superseded by the multitude of colour combinations. Aside from the tulips there are also several plots of daffodils which I find particularly charming because they look like they have simple sprouted out of the grass. Since Ottawa’s Tulip Festival happens only once a year this colourful flower garden is all the more memorable for its fleeting yet exuberant beauty.