Celebrate Canada 150 at the Tulip Festival in Ottawa

by | May 25, 2017 | Canada, Ottawa | 4 comments

This year is Canada’s 150th Birthday

I love Ottawa; I love tulips; and I love birthdays. For me, the Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa, the capital of Canada, is the best place to kick off a summer of birthday celebrations.

Ottawa holds a special place in my heart because this is where I moved to after graduation. My first ‘real’ job was in Ottawa, a lifetime ago. I didn’t love the job but I loved the city. My time in Ottawa was a time for making lifetime choices. I decided to move in a different direction with my career. This took me away from Ottawa. It was wonderful to be back, even for a short visit.

We were lucky with the weather. The days were crisp and clear with impossibly blue skies. It was perfect weather to spend a day at Canadian Tulip Festival. We went for the last weekend of the festival and caught the tulips at their peak.

Actually, I went to the tulips festival by myself. Norman was much more interested in going to the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. The Museum was fantastic and he promised to do a blog on his visit.


This is Canada’s Sesquicentennial. Since no one can pronounce sesquicentennial, in English or French, we are just calling it Canada 150.


How are you going to celebrate Canada’s birthday?

There are more than a million tulips in bloom for the Canadian Tulip Festival

There are tulips everywhere in Ottawa but the mass plantings are at Dow’s Lake, an artificial lake on the Rideau Canal. The Canal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site so watch for a future post on this magnificent waterway.

There are beautiful residential streets that border the parklands on Dow’s Lake.

This could be your backyard, as long as you don’t mind hordes of visitors for a couple of weeks in spring.


The theme for the Canadian Tulip Festival is One Tulip, One Canada

Our tulips are a gift from the Netherlands

Tulips are more than beautiful flowers. They are a symbol of a deep and lasting friendship between Canada and the Netherlands.

To avoid eye strain, this is what the sign above says:

A Gift of Tulips

A Symbol of Gratitude

The tulip has become the symbol of friendship between the Netherlands and Canada. It celebrates Canada’s dual role as liberator of the country and safe haven for Princess Juliana during the Second World War. In thanks, Princess Juliana gave 100,000 tulip bulbs to Canada after the war. Since then, the Dutch royal family and the Dutch Bulb Growers Association have each sent 10,000 tulip bulbs to Canada every year.

Last spring, we were in the Netherlands and we visited the tulip festival at Keukenhof Gardens, one of the most beautiful gardens in Europe. Their tulip festival is on a much larger scale, with permanent pavilions and more than 7 million tulips. When we were in Keukenhof, I decided that I wanted to see the Canadian Tulip Festival this spring.


Which do you prefer: the Canadian Tulip Festival or Keukenhof Gardens?

This is the Canada 150 tulip, developed for Canada’s 150th birthday

Canada partnered with the Netherlands to create the Canada 150 tulip. It is red and white in the colours of the Canadian flag, with a burst of orange flame in the centre.

Last spring, when I did the post on Keukenhof, I had to use a stock photo of the Canada 150 tulip. This year, I have my own photo.

The Canada 150 is as beautiful as promised!

Malak Karsh, one of Canada’s greatest photographers, is The Tulip King

Malak Karsh got his start in photography with the help of his famous brother, Yousuf Karsh, one of the greatest portrait photographers of the 20th century. The Karsh brothers emigrated to Canada as teenagers to escape the Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire, now Turkey.

Again, to avoid eye strain, the above sign says:

Malak Karsh

The Tulip King

The Armenian-born photographer had a great love for both Canada and tulips, and sought to re-create scenes that reflected their beauty. On Parliament Hill in 1946, Malak photographed the first blooms sent by Princess Juliana. In 1951, he suggested a tulip festival to the Ottawa Board of Trade – an idea that became an annual event. A tulip bed across the river from Parliament Hill is dedicated to Malak, and is planted with his favourite variety.

Karsh’s 1946 photograph is shown in the photo above.


Thank you, Malak Karsh, for your excellent suggestion of a tulip festival!

The Canadian Tulip Festival has tulips, lots and lots of tulips

This is the only flower bed at Dow’s Lake that uses other spring bulbs to frame the tulips. These are grape hyacinths in the foreground.

Would you carry a ladder to catch the best photos?

I carry a small travel camera. It has its limitations but it is compact and light. A friendly photographer at the Canadian Tulip Festival had a huge camera, a huge lens and a 6-step ladder. He let me stand on the ladder. Yes, you get a better view but I don’t think I would have enjoyed the festival as much if I had lugged a ladder around all day!

The early tulip festivals in Ottawa were designed to be seen while driving by in a car. Mass beds were planted in one colour. Now, the festival is designed to be enjoyed on foot. Colours and varieties are mixed for up-close viewing.

Some tulip varieties don’t look like tulips

Would you plant Double Toronto tulips?

The rest of Canada would really like Double Toronto

This is the Double Toronto tulip.

I LOVE the Double Toronto tulip!

Next year, picture yourself in this frame at the Canadian Tulip Festival

Everyone was taking photos at the tulip festival.

I wonder who organized a whole family to show up for their family photo.

There is lots to do at the tulip festival.

These kids found the best tree for climbing.

Baby animals upstage tulips

A family of geese and goslings jumping into Dows Lake delighted children and photographers.


You can’t get more Canadian than a family of Canada Geese at the Canadian Tulip Festival in Canada’s Capital

Blue sky, white apple blossoms and Canada 150 tulips: a technicolour spring in Ottawa!

A day at the tulip festival is a wonderful way to celebrate Canada’s 150 birthday.

I hope to travel to lots of Canadian communities this summer and celebrate Canada’s birthday in many places, in many ways.

Rose Ann MacGillivray

Rose Ann MacGillivray

World Heritage Traveller at BoomerVoice.ca
I love visiting World Heritage Sites, celebrating the world’s most fascinating places and cultures, and most of all, having fun on a trip. Join me on the road to fun and fascinating places. Thanks for reading – and remember to add your e-mail below for updates!
Rose Ann MacGillivray