When strolling through the parks watching all the children run around and tourists taking pictures of the blooming flowers, it is hard to remember that the Tulip Festival was born out of one of Europe's darkest chapters -- World War II.
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.