The gift that keeps on giving: Ottawa's love affair with tulips, through the years

The Canadian Tulip Festival is rooted in a wartime favour — now colourful tulips welcome spring to the capital each year. Here's a look at the festival over the years.

The Ottawa Tulip Festival was born in 1963 after nearly 2 decades of thank-you bulbs given to Canada

ARCHIVES | 1st Tulip Festival in 1963

8 years ago
Duration 0:30
Featured VideoTake a look at Ottawa's first Tulip Festival in 1963.

A festival begins in 1963

The Canadian Tulip Festival is rooted in a wartime favour. The Dutch Royal Family initially sought refuge in the United Kingdom in May 1940 after the Nazis invaded the Netherlands. But the next month, Princess Juliana boarded a ship with her two daughters — Princess Beatrix and Princess Irene — and came to Ottawa via Halifax.

Canada hosted the royals in Stornoway, which is now home to Rona Ambrose as the leader of the opposition.

As a thanks for its hospitality after returning to a liberated Netherlands five years later, Princess Juliana sent Canada 100,000 tulip bulbs, among other gifts. She continued to send tulip bulbs after she succeeded as Queen of the Netherlands in 1948.

By 1963, the Tulip Festival was born. See footage from the first festival in the video above.

Trudeaumania at Tulip Fest in late 1960s

ARCHIVES | Trudeau talk tulips in late '60s

8 years ago
Duration 0:39
Featured VideoThen prime minister Pierre Trudeau talks tulips at the Tulip Festival in the late 1960s.

In this clip, then prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau attends Tulip Festival in the late 1960s and expounds on the virtues of living in Ottawa.

"This is indeed one of the great pleasures of living and working in this city, is that it is truly a beautiful city, and in the spring, at this time of year, the beauty is enhanced by the tulips," a beaming Trudeau tells the audience. Elsewhere in the speech, Trudeau manages to connect with the hippie youth by referencing "flower power" at least twice.

He also took the time to crown that year's "tulip queen" — no, they don't do this anymore — and she appeared mighty pleased to get a kiss.

Back in the 1960s they used to crown a "tulip queen" at the Tulip Festival. This woman appears to have been quite pleased to get a kiss on the cheek from then prime minister Pierre Trudeau. (CBC)

Bright tulips in bloom in 1980

ARCHIVES | Tulips in bloom in 1980

8 years ago
Duration 3:03
Featured VideoA look at the Ottawa Tulip Festival in 1980.

Princess Margriet visits in 2002

Princess Margriet of the Netherlands — born at the Ottawa Civic Hospital in 1943 while her mother was in exile — returned to the capital for the Tulip Festival's 50th edition.

ARCHIVES | Princess Margriet of the Netherlands at Tulip Fest in 2002

8 years ago
Duration 1:52
Featured VideoPrincess Margriet of the Netherlands — born at the Ottawa Civic Hospital in 1943 while her mother Princess Juliana was in exile following the Nazi invasion — returned to the capital for the Tulip Festival's 50th edition.

It was a homecoming — sort of. The Civic Hospital was temporarily declared extraterritorial by the Government of Canada on the day she was born so that the princess would not have dual nationality, which would have affected her spot in line for the throne.

Princess Margriet helped celebrate the festival's golden anniversary in 2002, an event which featured an actual tulip bed.

The 50th anniversary of the Canadian Tulip Festival featured a bed of tulips. (CBC)