For a period of almost three weeks, the Canadian Tulip Festival offers a wide range of special events and festivities, and the Flotilla on the Rideau Canal is certainly one of the highlights. This morning I made my way down to Dow’s Lake through the leafy historic neighbourhoods of Ottawa. I parked my car about 20 minutes away from Commissioner’s Park which gave me the opportunity of a nice morning stroll through some of the gorgeous residential areas in Ottawa. Queen Elizabeth Driveway had been blocked off to road traffic, but yesterday I had the opportunity to drive right next to the Rideau Canal – it simply has to be one of the most scenic areas in Ottawa and one of the most serene public spaces in any of the big world cities that I have visited.
People were lining up beside Dow’s Lake and no one was quite sure if the weather was going to hold up or not, so there were many umbrellas to be seen in the crowd. But that didn’t deter a large number of loyal onlookers from gathering on the shores of Ottawa’s urban lake, ready to take in the beautiful images of the Flotilla. Ottawa’s parade on the water is one of the highlights of the Tulip Festival and this year more than 40 especially decorated boats participated.
The Flotilla Weekend features a variety of events, including Music on the Lake on a floating stage; there is a remote-control model boat exhibition and historic blacksmithing demonstration. The main event, the Flotilla started at 1:00 pm at Dows Lake and decorated boats of varying types and sizes paraded along the Rideau Canal all the way up to the Rideau Street Bridge. Along the route there is entertainment, refreshments and bilingual commentary introducing the participants.
Always curious, I made my way towards the announcer right next to the Dows Lake Pavilion who was dispatching and describing each floating participant in the parade. Right next to the announcer I found one of the key people behind the Canadian Tulip Festival: Benoît Hubert, the Executive Director of this non-profit organization who sat down with me to give me a better background of Ottawa’s largest festival.
The Canadian Tulip Festival got its start in 1953 and has very interesting historical roots: Queen Juliana of the Netherlands (1909 – 2004) went into exile to Canada during the Second World War and her daughter, Princess Margriet, was born at the Ottawa Civic Hospital. Canadian soldiers also played an integral role in liberating the Netherlands from Nazi occupation at the end of World War II. As a gesture of appreciation Princess Juliana sent 100,000 tulips to Canada in the fall of 1945 and this tradition has continued every year since then with an annual shipment of tulips from Holland.
The Tulip Festival has become a symbol of international friendship and over the last 53 years has evolved into the World’s biggest tulip festival. World-wide interest in this festival was stoked early when internationally renowned photographer Malak Karsh presented his stunning tulip pictures which appeared in newspapers all across the nation. Today more than two million flowers grace Ottawa during the festival, and the National Capital Commission, a federal agency with a mandate to beautify the National Capital Region, is in charge of the hundreds of flower beds and gardens that adorn the city.
Benoît mentioned that this year is a very special year since Ottawa is hosting the World Flower Council, an organization that promotes peace through the shared joy of flowers. The conference is introducing an international flavour to this year’s Tulip Festival and even the Flotilla had participants from the Netherlands, Thailand, Turkey, Taiwan, and France. He went on to explain that during the Kid’s World events, more than 3000 children come every day from different schools to learn about the history of the tulip.