The Canadian Tulip Festival is a breathtaking, authentic event that has grown significantly since it first began in 1953. In the fall of 1945, in gratitude for Canada’s help during World War II to The Netherlands , the Dutch Royal Family provided a gift of 100,000 Dutch tulip bulbs. Ever since the Kingdom of the Netherlands has presented Canada with a historic gift of 20,000 bulbs. Currently, the National Capital Commission plants more than one million bulbs every year, creating the largest public tulip display in the world. Commissioner’s Park near Dow’s Lake southwest of Downtown Ottawa forms the centerpiece of the Festival, with a smaller downtown display area located in Majors Hill Park. The festival is organized by the Canadian Tulip Legacy, a non-profit organization that commemorates the historic gift of tulips from the Dutch to Canadians after World War II.
The festival is now in its 71st year and welcomed an estimated 500,000 visitors in 2023, down from a pre-pandemic high of 600,000 visitors in 2018. Nearly half of those visitors are now coming from other parts of Canada, the United States, and from around the world. Attendance at the Canadian Tulip Festival ranks first, along with Winterlude, as the most attended Festival in the City of Ottawa. It has an annual regional economic impact of over $140 million per year. In 2018, there were 149 partner organizations associated with the event, over 500 artists and performers participated, and over 100 activities and attractions were provided. https://tulipfestival.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/CTF19-Community-Partnership-Document.pdf.
It is only in recent decades that events have come to be seen as an urban phenomenon. In the Eventful City by Greg Richards he proposes that events are one in a long line of different ways of thinking about the city and the organization of urban processes. Events are seen as an economic catalyst and a way of framing and distinguishing the city. Major events are now a tool for cities to raise their global profile, attract media attention, stimulate tourism, and generate economic growth. In Canada, the City of Montreal has been in the forefront of such developments internationally where events have become part of broader economic and social policies aimed at developing the city as a whole. (Eventful Cities: Strategies for event-based urban development, Greg Richards (2017)).
Undoubtedly, the Tulip Festival has enhanced Ottawa’s profile internationally by generating significant positive national media and TV coverage. It has maintained a special bi-national bond between Canada and The Netherlands. It is now an important cultural event and a tourist attraction for the accommodation and restaurant partners leading into the busy summer tourism season. It is also improving the quality of life in Ottawa, becoming the preeminent spring floral event terminating yet another Canadian winter. Perhaps even the condo boom in the adjacent Little Italy neighbourhood, notably with the construction of the 45-storey Claridge Icon Condo, has benefitted from being across the street from Commissioners Park where the residents can enjoy two weeks of floral splendor every year.
The author at the Canadian Tulip Festival,2023