A May 2004 trip
to Ottawa by girlfromals
Quote: For three weeks every May, Ottawa celebrates the world's largest tulip festival, the Canadian Tulip Festival. When one thinks of tulips, the first thought is not of Ottawa. Tiptoe through the tulips to find out how Ottawa came to host this fantastic floral festival!
Major's Hill Park, located on MacKenzie Drive behind Chateau Laurier, is the hub of the festival. Here you will find the Artisans in the Park, the Concert Series, the International Friendship Village, restaurants, wine-tasting, and the Kids Zone with live entertainment and all kinds of things for the kids to climb on. The kids looked like they were having tons of fun! A fireworks display is also held here on the last Sunday evening of the festival.
Casino du Lac-Leamy hosts Tulip Explosion, a celebration of floral design. You can attend actual competitions and watch floral students and masters create floral sculptures and arrangements, a fashion show incorporating flowers into the designs, and even a hairstyling competition using flowers! The floral arrangements and some of the dresses can be viewed throughout the festival.
Commissioner's Park is the destination for the flower lovers. While there are a smattering of flowers at the other sites, Commissioner's Park hosts the big flower beds. Commissioner's Park is situated on the edge of Dow's Lake just off Carling Avenue. As you stroll by the flower beds you can watch boats out on the Lake. This site is host to the Tulip Café featuring dishes made with tulips.
Parliament Hill is the biggest tourist attraction in Ottawa. It is located on Wellington Street. You can tour the inside and find out about our system of government and the buildings. During the festival, there are tents set up on the grounds with various activities going on.
At each of the Official Sites, you can have a souvenir photo taken to put in your Passport. Look for the Souvenir Photo tents. It is just a Polaroid photo but it makes a nice keepsake!
The flowers are the biggest highlight, at least for me. The best time to see the tulips seems to be the 2nd weekend. While this is not the case every year, the majority of the tulips, both early and mid-blooming varieties, bloom by the second weekend.
If you plan to spend more than one day at the festival, I recommend buying the Tulip Passport for Cdn. It gets you in to all the Official Sites for free, you get free transportation to Commissioner's Park and Casino du Lac-Leamy with the Tulip Shuttle on weekends, and there are tons of coupons inside. The Passport does not include entrance to the evening Concert Series at Major's Hill Park.
While there is food at Major's Hill Park, it is mostly hot dogs, candy, and pub fare. The Market is located just a block away. Here you can find everything for a picnic lunch at Major's Hill Park: fresh fruits and veggies from local farmers, butcher shops and bakeries.
Even if you don't park or go veggie shopping in the Market, I highly recommend at least wandering around this historic area.
If you have a car, you can easily drive to all Official Sites. To attend Major's Hill Park, park in one of the garages in the Market or at the Rideau Shopping Centre. You cannot park on Parliament Hill so park in the Market and walk over. There is little parking at Commissioner's Park but you can park on the side streets.
The Tulip Shuttle runs to all Official Sites on Saturdays and Sundays during the festival. The red Ottawa bus runs every 10 minutes between Major's Hill Park, near Parliament Hill, past City Hall (extra parking), down Queen Elizabeth Drive, to Commissioner's Park. The blue Gatineau bus runs to the Casino every 25 minutes from Major's Hill Park. Catch the Gatineau bus at the north end of Major's Hill Park across from the National Art Gallery. You can catch the Ottawa bus at the main festival entrance at Major's Hill Park. Stops are marked with large blue Tulip Festival signs. During the week, you can take Ottawa bus 85 to Commissioner's Park.
Attraction | "The Tulip Festival - Major's Hill Park"
My first stop was Artisans in the Park, a large tent near the south entrance. There are dozens of artists selling their wares including paintings, clothing, woodworking, pottery, glass, fudge, and jewelry. I found some fantastic jewelry created by a Montreal artist. I purchased a lovely gold and amber bracelet. I went back another day to buy gifts! The most interesting work I saw was by a woman who used fish bones on a black background to create all kinds of scenes! These were absolutely amazing!
The International Friendship Village features Turkey, birthplace of the tulip, the Netherlands, which is synonymous with the word tulip, and Japan, which has developed a number of unique tulip varieties. You can buy food and crafts and participate in various activities. The Japanese tent was hosting an origami lesson when I dropped in.
During the day, the Concert Stage is open to all visitors to Major's Hill Park. Various artists perform during the day. During the evening, the Concert Stage is home to big name artists. The evening concerts require a separate ticket. You can purchase a one-event ticket or an all-concert pass which gets you in to all evening concerts. Individual tickets range from $10-15 Cdn and the all-concert pass is only $25. This area is surrounded by food vendors. If you like hot dogs and cotton candy, this is the place for you. If not, then stop in the Market to pick up fruit and veggies from local farmers, and drop by the local butcher shops and bakeries to pick up a picnic lunch to take to Major's Hill Park.
The Family Zone, located at the north end of the Park, was absolutely swarming with kids who were clearly enjoying themselves. Kids can climb on an inflatable Titanic, paint, or watch one of many live entertainers. When I passed by, a large crowd of kids and parents was enjoying one of the entertainers encouraging everyone to count to 3 as he prepared to toss something.
I admit that I was a little disappointed. I had expected more flowers. There were only two real flower beds, one by the Family Zone, the other near the Artisans in the Park tent. Considering we are celebrating tulips, I had expected more flowers. But when I saw the number of people at this site, I could understand why there were so few flowers - they would probably have just been trampled on. If you know this in advance, you won't be disappointed.
Entrance is free with your Tulip Passport. Otherwise, it costs $5 on weekdays, $10 on weekends, and $8 for Seniors. Kids 12 and under are free. Head to Capital Tickets to buy concert tickets in advance.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on May 29, 2004
Major's Hill Park
Above the Rideau Canal
Ottawa, Ontario K1N 8S7
Attraction | "The Tulip Festival - Tulip Explosion"
Floral fashion is highlighted on weekend one. Hairstyling competitions take place during the days leading up to the master competition on Sunday evening. The student competitions are free and the master competition costs $25 Cdn. Floral fashion is on display all weekend as well. I must say that the dresses were designer, i.e. completely unwearable but certainly fantasy-worthy, especially the wedding dress!
Weekend two is all about Tulip Fantasy. This weekend features floral arrangements by students and master florists. The final creations are on display in the Theatre Foyer all weekend. There are various competitions including individual arrangements to large arches which were created by teams of 4. Perhaps the most interesting is the ‘surprise box' competition. Competitors get a box, the contents of which are a surprise. They have to come up with their creation in a set amount of time. Try incorporating flowers and greenery with plates, coffee cups, and cutlery! These creations were very diverse and interesting!
Weekend three, Canadian Tulipmania, features floral sculptures representing the different regions of Canada. All Canadian provinces are unique and it is very nice to see how people have interpreted the nature and spirit of these places. I found a lovely one representing my home province, Saskatchewan, featuring our provincial flower, the prairie lily. I also found an arrangement representing Canada's north - a very interesting ice-like structure.
I went to Tulip Explosion on weekend two and it took an hour to get through all the displays. There were still a few dresses from the first weekend's competition on display. I admit that I was a bit disappointed. From the brochure I had expected there to be huge flower beds at the Casino as well as the displays. This was a bit misleading. The 90,000 bulbs are spread out in small flower beds mainly along the entrance way to the Casino. If you know this going in, you won't be disappointed.
I recommend leaving the kids at home, especially if they are small. There is nothing of interest here and nothing to divert their attention if they get bored. If kids are 10 and above or have a real love of flowers, then it might be appropriate to take them along.
You can drive to the Casino and park here as there is ample parking but I still recommend taking the Shuttle to avoid having to deal with a car. The Shuttle runs every 25 minutes to and from Major's Hill Park.
Admission to almost all the events is free with your Tulip Passport. Tickets for the master hair competition on the first weekend can be purchased ahead of time by calling 1-800-361-4595 or by vising the box office website.
Casino du Lac-Leamy
1, boulevard du Casino
Attraction | "The Tulip Festival - Commissioner's Park"
Begin your journey through the flowers at the west end of the park. The first flower bed is dedicated to the late Queen Juliana of the Netherlands who literally gave birth to the festival with her donations of tulip bulbs. There are a number of showy tulip varieties displayed in this bed making it one of the most photographed flower beds at the Tulip Festival.
From here, follow the pathway among the trees and past the colourful tulip beds. You will see every colour from the traditional reds and yellows to midnight purple. You will also see traditional petals as well as the pointy varieties (my favourite growing up) and the ‘fluffy' parrot varieties. There are varieties named after Dutch towns, royals like Prince Charles, and people like Eisenhower. There are signs in every bed to identify the varieties.
About half-way through your stroll, you will come upon a number of tents. The largest of these houses the Tulip Café where you can enjoy food made with tulips. There is also a small souvenir shop where you can buy official Tulip Festival gear from T-shirts to tulip keychains. You can also stop at the small tent to learn about the Canadian war effort in the Netherlands. Be sure to stop and read the large signs which tell you about the Dutch Royal family who sought refuge in Ottawa, World War II, the donation of tulip bulbs, and the history of the festival.
Further down the path you will encounter street performers. When I arrived at the Park, a pair of acrobats was entertaining a good-sized crowd. When I made my way back from the end of the park, a new group of entertainers had taken over the stage using unsuspecting passers-by to entertain the crowd.
I visited Commissioner's Park on the last weekend of the festival. While there were a number of late-blooming varieties looking their best, I was a little disappointed with myself for not having gone the weekend before when all varieties were in full bloom. By the time I got there, about half of the flowers had already finished blooming.
To get to the Park, take the Tulip Shuttle from Major's Hill Park on Saturdays and Sundays. During the week, take Ottawa bus 85 to Dow's Lake.
If you don't mind fighting other photographers to get photos of the tulips, you will enjoy your time at the Park. There is no ‘tacky' factor, the Park is quiet, and entrance is absolutely free. It would also make a wonderful place for a picnic lunch and if the kids get bored, they can run around the Park or watch the boats on Dow's Lake. Enjoy your tiptoeing!
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on May 29, 2004
When the Germans invaded the Netherlands in 1940, the Dutch royal family fled to the safety of England. Unfortunately, England was not much safer, thanks to the use of aerial bombing. Queen Wilhelmina decided to send her daughter and heir, Princess Juliana, and her two small children to Canada so that she could carry on a government-in-exile if the Queen were captured or died. Later in 1940, under the greatest of secrecy, Princess Juliana and her children were driven to Wales to board a Dutch ship headed for Canada.
The Dutch royals were given refuge in the capital of Canada, Ottawa. After renting a house in the neighbourhood of Rockliffe, they settled in at Stornoway, now the official residence of the leader of the Official Opposition in Canada. The family lived like all others during the war. The two small princesses attended a local public school. Their mother, Princess Juliana, volunteered for the war effort. Her husband was at war like those of the local women. She was also her mother's official representative and made frequent visits to the troops in Canada, the United States, and the Dutch Caribbean.
In 1943, Princess Juliana would give birth to the only royal child ever born in Canada. No one knew if this child would be a girl or a boy. If the baby were a boy, he would inherit the throne. But there was a problem. In order to inherit the throne of the Netherlands, the heir had to be born on Dutch soil. When it came time for Princess Juliana to give birth, she headed to a local hospital and Canadian officials ceded the hospital room to the Netherlands in order that the baby would be born on Dutch soil. Rumour has it, though, that someone actually poured Dutch soil under the bed so the baby would really be born on Dutch soil! Therefore, when Princess Margriet was born, she became fourth in line to inherit the throne. Queen Wilhelmina and Prince Bernd, Princess Juliana's husband, made the dangerous trip to Canada a few months later for Princess Margriet's baptism. The baptism was a huge international event with Queen Mary of England and President Roosevelt of the United States becoming Princess Margriet's godparents.
Hundreds of thousands of Dutch people were abused, imprisoned, or murdered during the occupation. The birth of the little princess provided a big boost to the Dutch people in their struggle. Her name, Margriet (Daisy), was a symbol of the resilience and strength of the Dutch people. The tides would quickly turn. It would not be long before Canadian troops pushed north over the Rhein to the Dutch border. They had orders to liberate the Netherlands and they did! As soon as the Netherlands was liberated, the Canadians quickly set to work rebuilding the country along side the Dutch. Two days after Hitler committed suicide, Queen Wilhelmina, Princess Juliana, and her children returned to the Netherlands. Eventually Princess Juliana inherited the throne, becoming Queen.
In 1946, as a sign of gratitude to the Canadian people, the Netherlands gave Canada 100,000 tulip bulbs. Queen Juliana, (still Princess) sent another 20,000 bulbs. She made an annual gift of 10,000 bulbs every year thereafter.
In 1951, Ottawa hosted the first Tulip Festival. It has since grown into a three week international event featuring over 1 million bulbs, including those originally donated by the people of the Netherlands and Queen Juliana.
Sadly, early in 2004, Queen Juliana passed away at the age of 94. A special tribute has been created in her honour at Commissioner's Park. A special flowerbed has been planted with a variety of beautiful tulips and a plaque erected in her memory, a fitting tribute to a special woman and the special relationship that developed between Canada and the Netherlands over 60 years ago.