The Story of Ottawa’s Tulips


Ottawa’s Canadian Tulip Festival was fabulous this year. Not everyone knows why we even have this festival, so here’s the saga:

In June, 1940, just a month after the Nazi invasion of neutral Holland (which didn’t remain neutral for long), Queen Wilhelmina sent her daughter, Princess Juliana, and her two young granddaughters to Canada. Juliana’s husband, the Belgian Prince Bernhard, stayed in Europe to fight. The princess settled in Ottawa, rented an apartment and lived liked an ordinary citizen here in Canada’s capital. She knitted garments for the soldiers and even worked in a second-hand shop to help support the Allied cause.  She rarely saw her husband during this time, though she was in frequent contact with him and with the Queen, who was in exile in England.

In January 1943, the Princess gave birth to her third daughter, Margriet, here in Ottawa. To enable the new princess to be a Dutch citizen and rightful heiress to the throne, the Canadian Parliament ceded the Princess’ delivery room at Ottawa General Hospital over to the Netherlands. Margriet was born on Dutch soil on January 19, 1943.

Two years later, after the imposition of unspeakable hardships in Holland and the slaughter of untold numbers of Dutch Jews, the Nazis were driven from the Netherlands by Canadian troops. In 1945, the Dutch people were free once again.

As a thank you gift to Canada, the Netherlands sent 100,000 tulip bulbs to be planted on Parliament Hill as a symbol of Holland’s gratitude and lasting friendship. In 1946, Princess Juliana gave 20,000 additional bulbs herself. A tradition was begun that continues to this day. In addition to receiving an annual gift of bulbs,  the Government of Canada purchases thousands of bulbs each year and the landscape experts of the National Capital Commission, “Guardian of the Tulips”, carefully plan the annual botanical spectacle.

Now, every May, there are a million tulips on display around the city providing a magnificent explosion of colour and a reminder of a lasting friendship between two nations that are forever bound together by their history and their love for peace and freedom.

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2 thoughts on “The Story of Ottawa’s Tulips”

  1. What a wonderful story! I especially like that the Princess lived like an “average” Canadian and did her part to help.

    We’ve been to the Tulip Festival in Holland, Michigan, and it’s quite the explosion of color.

    1. Yes, I’ve heard the Holland, MI festival is also very impressive. My dad scoffed (lovingly, of course) at the “low volume” of flowers compared to the Keukenhof. But nothing could compare with that! We’re just pleased to be able to enjoy this display in the middle of our beautiful city every year, and to take our visitors downtown to enjoy it with us. It’s also inspired us to plant some bulbs at our house.

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