18 May 2018




Abbotsford Tulip Festival, April 2018. Photo courtesy of Casarina Hocevar. 
This week marks the beginning of Ottawa’s famous annual Tulip Festival. So in celebration of Spring, our Flashback Friday will delve into the history and heritage of the tulip festival.

A little history…

In 1953, Ottawa hosted its first tulip festival at the suggestion of photographer Malak Karsh (brother of Yousuf Karsh). The choice of flower was symbolic: 100,000 tulip bulbs were given to Ottawa by the Netherlands at the end of WWII, as a gesture of thanks, friendship, and peace.

Throughout the Second World War, Ottawa hosted the Dutch royal family while the Netherlands faced invasion and occupation. Princess Juliana, who was the only child (and heir) to Queen Wilhelmina, gave birth to her daughter in the Ottawa Civic Hospital, in January 1943. Part of the hospital was given temporary “extraterritorial” status in the city, thus, allowing the newborn Princess Margriet Francisca to receive Dutch citizenship. The family remained in Ottawa for four years, until the Netherlands was liberated from Nazi forces in 1945.

Shortly after, Princess Juliana arranged the 100,000 bulbs to be given to the capital as a gift, with additional bulbs being sent each year after, known as “the Tulip Legacy.”

A little more history…

While Canadian-Dutch relations provide us a foundation for understanding the origins of Ottawa’s tulip festival, the contemporary craze for tulips isn’t particularly new.

Wood engraving by Conrad Gesner, 1561. Source.
In the 16th Century, tulips were introduced to the Dutch from the Ottoman Empire. Their vibrant colours and rarity sparked great interest. This interest soon became an obsessive fascination shared widely in Dutch society by the 1630s. The desire grew so intense that tulips became a form of currency, creating a unique economic bubble which drove the price of tulip bulbs to unreasonable ranges. Unsurprisingly, the “tulipmania” bubble broke near the end of the 1630s, resulting in a market crash.

As professor Anne Goldgar notes throughout her book, Tulipmania, the legacy of tulipmania has been written and researched about extensively in articles, novels, and plays, telling us of the enduring public fascination for tulipmania. Of course, the fascination in tulipmania’s legacy is not simply in the beauty of the flowers themselves, but in the way in which the flowers influenced a society so deeply.

From 17th Century Dutch markets to the 18th Century Ottoman court, tulips once again become an icon for luxury and consumption. During what was known as the Ottoman Empire’s Tulip Period - an era of economic growth and increased material consumption - tulips appeared in prints, textiles, paintings and throughout markets and gardens. And as with the Dutch tulipmania, tulips in the Ottoman empire also saw rocketing prices for bulbs and flower orders, until state regulation was enforced on the market. Once again, tulips proved to have a captivating essence...

16th Century Ottoman textile featuring tulip design. Source.

Contemporary tulipmania…

While today’s tulipmania has not caused any recent market crashes, it certainly seems to captivate the spaces and imaginations of social media users. Social media has certainly made it easier for flower festivals and their visitors to relish in the beauty a little longer. Below are some posts made by festivals organizers and visitors worldwide.

Tulip festivals across Canada:

Ottawa, ON: May 11th - 21st

Abbotsford, BC: April 9th - mid-May

Tulip festivals worldwide:

Keukenhof Holland, Netherlands: March 22nd - May 13th

Istanbul, Turkey: April 1st - 30th

A post shared by Evgeniya Yüksel (@jenny_xel) on

Holland, Michigan: May 5th - 13th

A post shared by Tulip Time Festival (@tulip_time) on

Srinagar, Kashmir, India: March 25th - April 15th

A post shared by Boy ate the world (@boy_ate_the_world) on

Tesselaar (Melbourne), Australia: October 8th - 14th

A post shared by #girlsthatwander (@girlsthatwander) on

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