Tulips are Forever in Ottawa

Updated: Jun 7, 2019

The tulip is unlike any other flower. It exudes innocence, enclosed in itself like a child holding a secret that it can’t wait to blurt out. They gently bloom at the first hint of warmth in early spring. Its history can be traced back to the Ottoman empire. Later on, it came to be synonymous with the Netherlands.

But how did this unassuming beauty come to be the heartthrob of Canada? Ottawa’s annual tulip festival in May is by some accounts the largest such festival in the world with more than 7,000,000 bulbs blooming. Why does it have national botanical significance in Canada? The answer to that is the poignant tale of royalty in exile during World War II, of heroic Canadian soldiers who laid down their lives, of an innocent newborn whose royal blood and citizenship were preserved by an extremely solicitous gesture and the undying gratitude of a nation.

And this is how the story goes. World War II was at its height, and the Netherlands was invaded by the Nazis. By 1940 the Dutch royal family was forced to flee. Princess Juliana, her husband Prince Bernhard, and their daughters Princess Beatrix and Princess Irene were granted safe haven in Canada. During their sojourn in Stornoway House in Ottawa, Princess Juliana had her third child, a baby daughter named Princess Margriet.

Canada rose to the occasion and with great forethought and prudence declared the ward of the Ottawa Civic Hospital Dutch territory. And the royal baby was born a Dutch citizen in Canada. The host country went well beyond the call of duty and whole-heartedly celebrated the birth of the princess. The Dutch flag was hoisted atop the Peace Tower while Dutch music played on the tower’s carillon.

While the Canadian government offered a safe haven for the royal family, Canadian soldiers fought bravely to liberate the Netherlands from the dreadful Nazi occupation. The Royal Canadian Army cleared the way for relief operations and their counterparts in the Air Force conducted food drops to the starving Dutch civilians.

In 1945 the Netherlands was liberated, and the Royals were able to return home. Their gratitude to Canada knew no bounds. Princess Juliana said it with flowers—100,000 bulbs of tulips, followed by 20,000 more every year. Is it any wonder then that Ottawa has a tulip festival?

And it doesn’t end there. The Netherlands has not forgotten the love and sacrifice. They have more gifts planned for Canada, and this time it’s going to be a tulip bearing the red maple leaf of the Canadian flag on its silky white petals. 1.1 million of these slender beauties are going to bloom in 2020; one for every Canadian braveheart who served in WWII.

Tulips will be a part of Canadensis’ national botanical garden in Ottawa.


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