Even in the most southerly parts of Canada, a little winter does fall.
Canada is a northerly country with long winter nights. Spring brings longer days and the cheerful barrage of colour everywhere as flowers and trees bloom anew.
This is particularly true in the nation’s capital of Ottawa, which hosts the annual Canadian Tulip Festival, running in 2017 from May 12 to 22.
The Festival celebrates the close ties between The Netherlands and Canada, going back to the Second World War. When the German military invaded and occupied The Netherlands, the Dutch royal family fled for safety to England. Princess Juliana, next in line to the Dutch throne, and her two daughters moved further to safety in Canada and settled in Ottawa. In 1943, Juliana gave birth to a third daughter and, in order for that child to hold Dutch citizenship, the Canadian government declared the hospital where she was born as outside of Canadian territory. Canadians also led the Allied forces that liberated the Netherlands from their occupation in 1945.
After Princess Juliana and the rest of the Dutch royal family returned home, she sent 100,000 tulip bulbs as a thank you to Canada; she sent another 20,500 the next year and maintained the yearly gift when she became queen in 1948. To this day, Ottawa receives 20,000 tulips yearly as a continuing tribute from the Netherlands.
Just a few years into the tulip-giving — and the subsequent large beds of tulip blooms springing up around Ottawa — photographer Malak Karsh suggested that the city host a festival to celebrate the spring, the tulips, and the Canadian military who served in the Second World War.
Beyond Ottawa’s tulips, other spring blooms have special meanings across Canada.
The daffodil month
Ontario’s official flower blooms in early May in woodlots, a tri-petal white (and sometimes burgundy-red) flower. Every kid in Ontario gets sternly warned, “don’t pick the trilliums!” Trilliums will not bloom again if their current blossom is plucked and there is even a law, 2009’s Ontario Trillium Protection Act, that makes is illegal, punishable by up to a $500 fine, to “pick, cut down, dig, pull up, injure or destroy, in whole or in part, whether in blossom or not, the plant that produces the trillium grandiflorum or white trillium.” Trilliums can be safely propagated by digging up the rhizomes when the plant is in dormancy stage, dividing them, and replanting. This image of trilliums comes from a downtown Toronto urban garden.
Toronto’s High Park cherry blossoms
Nova Scotia’s lupins
Main photo: Courtesy Ottawa Tourism