Ottawa is in bloom. The 65th Canadian Tulip Festival is on until May 22. The annual tradition celebrates not just a colorful spring flower, but an aspect of Canada’s history.
During World War II, Princess Juliana, daughter of Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, lived in Ottawa with her husband Prince Bernhard while their home country was occupied by the Nazis. Their third daughter, Princess Margriet, was born at the Ottawa Civic Hospital on January 19, 1943. In order to maintain the baby’s Dutch citizenship and royal title, the Canadian government temporarily relinquished the Civic Hospital maternity ward as international territory. Princess Margriet was baptized at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in downtown Ottawa.
Canadian soldiers also played a significant role in the liberation of the Netherlands in 1944. After the war, Canada was a major destination for Dutch immigrants. Most arrived in the 1940s and 1950s, but more have arrived in the decades since. Juliana became Queen of the Netherlands in 1948 and served until 1980.
In appreciation for Canada’s wartime assistance, Queen Wilhelmina sent 100,000 tulip bulbs to the Canadian government in 1945. Another 20,500 arrived in 1946, with the promise of 10,000 more bulbs every following year.
The result of the Dutch gift was a large number of beautiful public tulip gardens in parks around Ottawa. The displays were organized into the Canadian Tulip Festival in 1953. The festival also includes exhibits and entertainment at Lansdowne Park. The biggest tulip display is at Commissioners Park by Dows Lake. Thousands of people visit Ottawa every spring to tiptoe through the tulips.