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The annual event honours an old bond that Canada shares with the Netherlands from the Second World War

Every May, Ottawa becomes a mesmerizing kaleidoscope of colours. Visitors from around the globe come to see the brilliant flowers at the Canadian Tulip Festival, but they are also taking part in a celebration of friendship between Canada and the Netherlands – and a historic gift that keeps blooming.

The significance of the hundreds of thousands of tulips planted in Ottawa dates back to the Second World War when Princess Juliana of the Netherlands took refuge in the city with her two young daughters. During this time, she gave birth to her third daughter, Princess Margriet – the only royal ever born in Canada – at the Ottawa Civic Hospital.

Upon their safe return home, Princess Juliana gifted 100,000 tulip bulbs as a thank you to Ottawa, also a sign of gratitude to the Canadian soldiers who assisted in liberating parts of the Netherlands. Ever since, the country has sent 20,000 bulbs to Canada’s capital each year. They are among those planted at the Civic Campus of the Ottawa Hospital and the Queen Juliana Gift Bed in Commissioners Park, now home to the largest tulip festival in the world. During the festival, the park is also home to the Dutch War Brides exhibit, a series of portraits from artist Bev Tosh of women who left the Netherlands to join their husbands in Canada.

Steeve Lavoie drove from Kingston to see the blooms. As a member of the Canadian military for more than 33 years, Mr. Lavoie said he wanted to pay respects to those who served before him, while honouring his own connection to the Netherlands and Europe.

For Karen and Andrew Cartmell, the festival, which began in 1953, was a “top of the list” item of things to do in Ontario. Coming from Waterloo after living in Saskatchewan for 13 years, the pair rode bikes through the park – stopping occasionally to snap pictures.

Their sentiment was echoed by Gaétan Boucher of Quebec. After a three-hour drive from Victoriaville, he planned to stay in the city for three days, absorbing the history and appreciating the vivid display.

“I am no expert, but there is a lot of colour,” Boucher said with a laugh. “It’s very interesting, very beautiful.”

The Canadian Tulip Festival runs until May 22.

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