Canadian Tulip Festival Sets Ottawa Abloom in May 

Canadian Tulip Festival 2024

Spring has sprung in Ottawa as the city boasts the largest free public tulip festival in the world! The Canadian Tulip Festival 2024 runs from May 10 to 20 with over a million tulips blooming throughout the National Capital Region showcasing over 110 varieties of tulips in 30 gardens. Visitors will discover much more than colourful tulip displays as the annual festival incorporates history, entertainment, and a drone show. 

More than 400,000 people visit Ottawa for the Canadian Tulip Festival

Last year 416,000 people visited the festival over, celebrating the glory of the tulips and their historic ties to the Nation’s Capital.

“We are the largest public display and tulip festival with free events and no tickets needed,” states Jo Riding, Executive Director of The Canadian Tulip Festival. “While about half of the visitors are local or regional, the other half are tourists who come from everywhere and some of our biggest fan bases are from South Korea and India.”   

Despite our mild winter and rainy spring, the tulips will put on a brilliant show this year, according to Riding.

Tulips expected to be exceptionally brilliant this year in Ottawa

“Cool and rainy weather is good weather for tulips,” says Riding.

“Tulips originated in the Himalayans, so they are one sturdy flower. They like a hot summer and a cold winter. When they don’t get a consistent cold winter, they don’t get the energy they need to grow tall, so they’ll be a bit shorter. But the blooms themselves, – nothing will stop their primary function to bloom. That’s what makes us lucky with the tulip festival. They are so hardy—I’ve seen them covered in snow and they don’t care, they just keep going.” 

Three blooming times for tulips

The dates of the festival have never needed to be adjusted to match the peak bloom time; however Riding says the tulip varieties have been tweaked over the years. “The National Capital Commission (NCC) plant them and we celebrate them,” she explains. “The tulips come in three blooming times—early bloomers, mid bloomers and late bloomers. What we’ve been doing is gradually reducing the number of early bloomers and leaning toward late bloomers. Now we have changed the way we plan the gardens. Today just 20% of the tulips are early bloomers and the rest are mid to late season bloomers. It used to go the other direction.” 

How did the Canadian Tulip Festival get its start?

The annual tulip festival started with a special gift and a story of survival. The Royal Family of the Kingdom of the Netherlands took refuge in Ottawa during the Second World War while their country was being occupied. Her Royal Highness, Princess Margriet was born in Ottawa in 1943 at the Ottawa Hospital (the only Royal birth to take place in Canada). Two years later, Canadian troops played an important role in liberating the Netherlands

“When Queen Juliana and her three children got to go home, she was so grateful that she sent 100,000 tulip bulbs to Ottawa in the fall of 1945. The Dutch Royal family and the people of Netherlands continue this tradition by sending 10,000 tulip bulbs to Ottawa each fall as a way of saying thank you. 

Tulip Legacy Walk  

The main events during the 11-day festival take place at Commissioners Park where 300,000 tulips—the highest concentration in the Ottawa-Gatineau Region, are located. A highlight of the festival is The Tulip Legacy Walking Tour. It’s a free self-guided tour through Commissioners Park which provides visitors with in-depth historical and horticultural knowledge of the tulip varieties at the festival. Each of the seven stops features a sign with a QR code to access information about the tulip bed you are visiting.

Tulip Trail along the Rideau Canal

There’s also a Tulip Trail which goes along the Rideau Canal to downtown and ByWard Market and Parliament Hill and across the bridges to Gatineau. 

Free Family-friendly events

Family friendly events include free outdoor movies as well as a new sound and light show every evening on the blacklight boardwalk.  

ByWard Market in Ottawa’s downtown will showcase an urban tulip experience happening both day and night. 

See 8-foot-tall tulips in Byward Market

“We have created a giant tulip garden at ByWard Market with new eight-foot-tall tulips and giant bees and butterflies the size of volleyballs,” states Riding. “With eight-feet tall tulips you feel what it’s like to be a bee or butterfly. At night it gets funky as we show the tulips in blacklight with glowing flowers and luminescent pollen trails showing in the UV Spectrum.

Tulip Palooza

There will be a Tulip Palooza on Saturday May 18 which is a street party in front of the big Ottawa letters on York Street with a D.J. and an entire night market!” 

RCAF Fly-by and Military Parade

The official launch of The Canadian Tulip Festival takes place on Saturday May 11 at 11 a.m. at Commissioners Park with honoured veterans and a fly-by from the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) along with a military parade. 

200 Drones over Dow’s Lake

“The closing ceremony takes place on Sunday May 19 at 8:30 p.m. featuring a drone show with 200 drones over Dow’s Lake telling the story of RCAF through the years.”    

This is the ‘sixth edition’ (year) of the tulip festival that Riding has served as the Executive Director. With a background in film, including many Much Music videos, Riding says the goal is for the festival to combine beauty, entertainment and history through stories and events. “I am a film maker and I like to tell stories,” she adds.

Operation Manna

“At the festival we tell lots of stories about World War II, about why the tulips are here, about our Canadian war heroes. This year we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of RCAF. We are telling the story of Operation Manna, the largest humanitarian effort of World War II. The RCAF dropped 11 tons of food for the Dutch who were facing starvation. We created a sound and light show using actors and create an experience of Operation Manna that makes you feel like you are right there in the second World War as part of this low-flying food drop during war.” 

Part of Canada’s History

Riding states “The tulips are a beautiful plant, but they are also full of symbolism. When people hear the story of the festival’s history and the sacrifices given by Canadians, it changes them. It’s a part of our history.” 

Special Edition Tulips for Sale “Liberation80”

Each year special tulips are chosen to commemorate our war heroes. “Last year we sold four different RCAF tulip bulbs, all themed for different parts of the RCAF. This year we are preselling for next year’s event with the Liberation80 tulip as it’s been 80 years since liberation, and we are celebrating with the Canadian Army. The Liberation80 is a multi-petal white tulip chosen as a nod to peace and on the outside, there are green and yellow stripes as a nod to the Canadian Army with the green and gold. It has so many petals that it almost looks like a peony. We are also bringing back two favourites—the red and white striped Canada 150 and the Liberation75 orange tulip in the shape of a crown with reflex petals.” 

For those who have never been to the Canadian Tulip Festival, Riding says it’s a sight to behold. 

“Ottawa’s geography is stunning,” she says. “The city is so beautiful and so green; the architecture is beautiful with a great historical story, and the people are so friendly. It’s an international city with a small-town heart.” 

Tulip Boutique

Tulip bouquets, potted tulips and daffodils can be purchased at the festival’s Tulip Boutique. You can also arrange the pre-sale and delivery of Liberation80 Tulip Bulbs delivered directly to your door via the Netherlands by October 2024. Proceeds from sales at The Tulip Boutique support the Canadian Tulip Legacy. The nationally registered charity is devoted to ensuring the annual Canadian Tulip Festival remains free to everyone.

For more information visit  

by Laurie Wallace-Lynch, Ottawa Times

all images supplied by Canadian Tulip Festival

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