5/20-23/22: Ottawa’s Tulip Festival & Link to the Netherlands

Family and friends,

People often talk about the difficulties of returning home but since marrying Steven and moving to the United States 40 years ago, I have been blessed with almost annual opportunities to return to Ottawa where I grew up and lived. My four brothers are all still there as well as my oldest friends so Steven and I were thrilled to visit Canada’s capital city near the beginning of our road trip after Covid had made that impossible since 2020. 

All the best to you and your loved ones, Annie

The morning after Steven and I arrived in Canada’s capital city and my hometown of Ottawa to visit my four brothers and childhood friends, we drove out to the nearby city of Arnprior to visit two dear friends, Rosine and Jean-Michel, for lunch.For many years, they’ve split their time between their lovely home on the Ottawa River about 40 miles west of the capital and in the small French Basque town where Jean-Michel grew up, going back and forth every few months.

Steven and I were hugely impressed with the massive number of raised beds Jean-Michel had constructed where he grew a wide variety of vegetables. Rosine is one lucky woman in so many ways, not least because Jean-Michel is a fabulous cook. I can attest to that as Steven and I were treated to many fine wines and a multi-course feast! 

An unintentional re-creation of the famous American Gothic painting!

How very fortunate it was that both our schedules meshed as Rosine and Jean-Michel were returning to France very soon. I hope they’ll join us in Denver one day soon as life is too short not to see good friends more often.

Across the Ottawa River from their home was a town in the province of Quebec.

A few days later, my oldest childhood friend suggested just she and I meet up for a walk at Ottawa’s famous annual Tulip Festival that was taking placeat Commissioners Park. That was a brilliant idea as it had been ages since I’d seen the city’s largest and most impressive tulip displays. The over half-a-mile pathway wound through large garden beds filled with over 300,000 multi-colored blooms near Dows Lake along the Rideau Canal. 

The gift of tulips had become a symbol of gratitude and friendship between the Netherlands and Canada when my native country served as both the safe haven for Crown Princess Juliana of the Netherlands during WW II and as the liberator of her country at the end of the war. As a token of thanks after the war, Princess Juliana gifted Canada with 100,000 tulip bulbs. The Dutch royal family and the Dutch Bulb Growers Association have since each sent 10,000 bulbs annually to Canada.

After Nazi Germany invaded the Netherlands on May 19th, 1940, the Dutch faced a horrific occupation with young men, Jews, and other at-risk people going into hiding for months and up to years. Those captured by the Nazis were imprisoned and sent to concentration camps. Seventy-five percent of the country’s Jewish population were killed and almost a quarter of the population perished from violence, starvation, and the war’s deprivation.

Canada, and in particular, the capital city of Ottawa became a refuge for Princess Juliana during WW II when she arrived with her two young daughters. She rented a house in the Ottawa suburb of Rockcliffe Park where I grew up. Though she had a small household staff, the princess did her own shopping, household chores, and shoveled snow!

Princess Juliana’s house, Stornoway, later became the residence of the leader of the Official Opposition.

Princess Juliana traveled widely as a representative of the Netherlands to garner support for her country’s people, never failing to emphasize their plight. While in Ottawa, she visited the Royal Netherlands Army in Stratford, Ontario, and hosted foreign dignitaries at her home. In addition, she helped to raise funds for the Red Cross by selling second-hand items at the Ottawa Superfluity Shop. 

Princess Juliana met with Eleanor Roosevelt in Washington in January of 1941.

Ottawa’s princess: When Princess Margriet was born in January of 1943 at the Ottawa Civic Hospital, the Canadian government designated Princess Juliana’s maternity suite as “extraterritorial” so the baby would be born with full Dutch citizenship. The baby’s name meant ‘daisy,’ a flower symbolizing hope and resistance in the Netherlands. The Netherlands’ flag was raised over Parliament the day after Margriet’s birth.

Food rations were so dire in the ‘Hunger Winter’ of 1944-1945 that the Dutch were forced to eat tulip bulbs and potato peels. As a result of the threat of 3.5 million people dying of hunger, Canadian forces negotiated a truce to deliver food relief in April of 1945. When Canadian soldiers advanced across the Netherlands following Germany’s surrender in May, the liberators were met with cheers and many people wept with relief as the soldiers passed. 

With Lina my kindergarten friend:

The Tulip Festival is a huge draw bringing in tourists from far and wide each year.

Adjacent to Commissioners Park was the Rideau Canal and Dows Lake.

The Man with Two Hats monument by the park symbolized the solidarity between Canada and the Netherlands with the two hats representing “war and peace, repression and freedom, life and death, sadness and joy.” The outstretched arms represented the liberation of the Netherlands and also “the reaching out of country to country, people to people.” The 15-foot-tall bronze monument was sculpted by Dutch artist Henk Visch. There was an identical statue at the National Canadian War Memorial in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands.

Lina and I then strolled along the boardwalk by Dows Lake toward the path by the Rideau Canal Promenade.

Two of the locks along the Rideau Canal: 

In the background was the city’s English-language Carleton University. I took some upper-level political science classes there but graduated from the bilingual University of Ottawa located in downtown Ottawa.

Every winter, the historic Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is transformed by the National Capital Commission into the world’s largest skating rink! Winding its way through the heart of Ottawa is the Rideau Canal Skateway for a total length of close to five miles. The skating season is weather-dependent but typically runs from January to early March and is free and accessible 24/7. I remember loving to skate for miles along the canal, especially after stopping for infusions of hot cocoa to ward off the chill! Next winter will be the 53rd season on the Rideau Canal Skateway.

This was one of the many sightseeing boats plying the canal during the summer. Thanks again, Lina, for letting me play tourist in my hometown as it reminded me of what a beautiful city Ottawa has always been. It was wonderful being ‘home’ again after not being able to return to visit family and friends in Canada when the border was closed down for so long due to Covid.

Next post: Quebec City, a walker’s paradise!

Posted on July 14th, 2022, from Grayton Beach State Park in tiny Santa Rosa on the Florida Panhandle where Steven and I have come to enjoy the stunning Emerald Coast.


  1. Dear Annie: What a treat it was to have you in Ottawa and what wonderful memories this post captured. Merci. xo Lina xo
  2. What a fun walk we had catching up on person while also my getting the opportunity to be a tourist in my hometown thanks to your inspired suggestion we see the tulips.
  3. Annie, you travelogue is amazing. I do not know where you find the time and the energy to share it all. But especially the time we spent together. Those wonderful pictures brought it all back. Let’s make it happen again!!! Love you both. Rosine & Jean-Michel
  4. Loved the photo of the yellow, blue and white chairs on the beach. So peaceful. JDK
  5. Dear Annie, it was lovely to see the pics of my home town! it looked gorgeous. You might like to know that Terry’s Dad was the tank commander for the Fort Garry Horse which liberated Groenigen, Holland in late April 1945. When he returned with his family for the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Holland in 2005, he was feted and given keys to the city. He was a war hero and was awarded the DSO. Two weeks later he was with Montgomery when the Germans surrendered! love Angela

3 thoughts on “5/20-23/22: Ottawa’s Tulip Festival & Link to the Netherlands

  1. How lovely to meet up with old friends like this! The tulips look beautiful and I was interested to read about the strong ties between Canada and the Netherlands. The gift of the tulip bulbs reminded me of a similar arrangement between the UK and Norway that also grew out of the WW2 hostilities – in gratitude for the help given to Norway by the British government and military, each year Norway sends a Christmas tree to London which is displayed in Trafalgar Square.


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