Tulip Fail

Ottawa’s festival season kicked off this weekend with the Canadian Tulip Festival. Of course, the weather was more miserable than it’s been since February with just barely above freezing temperatures, driving rain and high winds.

But a lot of people had marked off their calendars to attend the tulip festival this weekend and by golly were going to show up despite the weather. Two of those people were my out-of-town blogger guests, Jazz from Haphazard Life and Violetsky from the blog of the same name. (Alison from Party of 3 only showed up for the food & beverage portions of the weekend).

So Saturday morning after a jolly breakfast with a bunch of Ottawa bloggers, we trudged off to Dow’s Lake to look at the freakin’ tulips. In the rain. And cold.

For those who’ve never heard of the Canadian Tulip Festival, this is supposed to be the largest tulip festival in the world. We have all these tulips because Ottawa sheltered the Dutch Princess Juliana and her kids during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands during WWII. One of her kids, Princess Margriet, was actually born in Ottawa in 1943. So, in gratitude the Dutch send a whole whack of tulips to Ottawa every year.

Back in 1953, photographer Malak Karsh (brother of Yousuf) decided it might be a fun idea to organize an entire festival around these hundreds of thousands of tulip bulbs that kept arriving. And for a long time the festival was a huge deal. There were big-name outdoor concerts. Liberace opened the festival in 1972. A 12-year-old Alanis Morissette did her first public performance at the festival in 1987. The career of the Trews took off after they opened for Big Sugar at the 2003 festival.

Anyway, around 2006, it seems  The City decided all this fun and frivolity was costing the city too much money, so they shut down the whole music and interesting-stuff part of the festival.

Therefore, on this, the 65th anniversary of the festival, the busloads of tourists who drove in on the weekend just got to see what was left of the tulips, since most of them had already bloomed and died due to the early spring we had. There was a sad little tent called “Tulip Art Gallery and Gift Shop” which featured a few paintings of tulips, umbrellas with plastic tulips tied on top, t-shirts with tulips and a handful of other touristy tulip-related stuff.

Outside, there were also a couple of other stands that served food products and a fairly substantial row of outhouses.

Now, I know Ottawa can’t do anything about the fact that the weather was good for a long time and made most of the tulips sprout early and then die off just in time for the festival. And Ottawa can’t do anything about the weather being really, really crappy the weekend that the festival opens. HOWEVER, I think they could have anticipated the predictably unpredictable verieties of Ottawa spring weather and maybe made a bit more of the whole tulip experience.

Would it have killed them to have some type of shelter where people could sit and enjoy a refreshment and/or some entertainment – maybe something educational or edifying?  A film maybe?  Or, since this is an annual event, could they not have a permanent interpretation centre-type building all about the significance of the festival? Some interactive activities perhaps? Anything?

I haven’t lived here very long, so I don’t know what’s really worth going to or worth doing in the city and I don’t know where anything is and I get lost in Ottawa really easily, so I was a really lousy tour guide for the guests.

So, off we went to the Byward Market  (which is always sort of festive) and laughed at the Obama cutouts and Obama cookies and then asked one of the Ottawa Ambassadors what they would recommend we do for the rest of the rainy afternoon. The Ottawa Ambassador kind of shrugged and said, “Um… I don’t know…like…the Tulip Festival? Or Parliament Hill or the museums? That’s really all there’s to do here.”

So, we had a late lunch, got a $30 parking ticket and went back to my place.

HOWEVER, despite Ottawa’s and/or my lameness and despite the really, really crappy weather, I had a splendid time with my guests and since neither of them snuck off in the night to go home, I’m assuming they were okay with everything. I’m sure they’ll be blogging about the weekend, too, so I’ll find out then.


26 responses to “Tulip Fail

  1. I’m so sorry about the bad weather, but the company of Mr. and Mrs. Jazz had to have brought some sunshine to your weekend.

  2. Sorry to hear about the Tulip Festival washout. I used to enjoy the festival but I had good weather. For bad weather, I would recommend the National Art Gallery. It is a beautiful refuge from the cold.

  3. As a family, biking to the tulip festival on a sunny warm day is one of my favourite Ottawa events of the year. There is usually a lot going on to entertain kids, with buskers and balloons and the beautiful scene. But without the weather (or tulips!), I can’t see it being a very fun time at all. What a shame.

    And I so enjoyed meeting you and all of the other lovely bloggers on Saturday. Thanks again.

  4. Yeah, never heard of it before. Hopefully the festival will be better in 2012 when I’m actually living in Ottawa.

  5. Sorry to hear how badly the event turned out, but the premise behind it seems pretty interesting. It’s amazing to me that the Dutch are still sending the tulips after all this time, especially with the economy like it is.

    I happened to go to a local garden this weekend in celebration of my Mom’s birthday, and it, unlike your tulip festival, was gorgeous, and the weather couldn’t have been better. So, maybe next year, you all should travel to Pennsylvania and go to Longwood Gardens 🙂

  6. I might add the road closures to prevent people from getting anymore close to downtown/Elgin street are also an absolute fail.
    This horrible joke of a booklet? pamphlet? I don’t know what to call it came with our paper yesterday highlighting events at the Tulip Festival. Honestly, this thing reads like my collective agreement – it is the most boring thing I have ever read, with tiny font, and wayyyyy too many words. Who comes up with this stuff?

  7. Geewits – Mr. Jazz didn’t come, but Mrs. Jazz definitely brought sunshine and a lot of laughs to my weekend.

    LGS – Yes, the Art Gallery was on the itinerary for the next day. I quite enjoy going there, too.

    Finola – It was good to meet you, too! And I do remember going to the tulip festival once when it wasn’t cold and rainy and there was other stuff going on outdoors. But I think they have to count on some bad weather during the festival or some years even throughout the festival and could have organized some more indoor-type things, I think.

    Sean – It’s lovely up by Dow’s Lake when the weather is nice, so if you’re local it’s easy enough to just go when it’s not pouring rain and freezing cold. However, if you’re coming from miles away or have booked on a tour then you’re pretty much out of luck unless it’s sunny and warm…. Which I don’t think you can absolutely count on in Ottawa in May.

    Skye – I’ll keep that in mind. If it’s cold and rainy is there still stuff to do there? And yes, the history behind the festival is interesting and I’d never heard it before I looked it up.

    Meanie – Ya, we had one of those too and spent quite a bit of time pouring over it trying to figure out if all this writing meant there was actually anything going on. The map wasn’t very helpful either.

  8. Ottawa isn’t lame! (Particularly when you compare it to some places in Canada) There’s lots to do, it’s just the weather that can be sucky here! LOL

    There are plenty of galleries, museums, indoor entertainment, stores, etc. Here’s a site that could be helpful: http://www.ottawatourism.ca/

  9. Yeah, the weather really sucked.
    But the tulips that were still blooming were lovely.
    And had I been there on my own it would have been miserable.

    I’ve got my version up now.

    @meanie – could they not have moved some of the exhibits and tents to a non-construction zone?
    @finola – buskers would be a great addition!

  10. The festival sounds crappy but you were with friends so that would be fun..

    We had an unofficial festival here on the weekend with sun, rain, then snow, strong winds that kept changing directions, then more sun, then more rain, then cold, then warm..

    We named our festival “What the #%! Mother @$#! Nature!!”

  11. Tulips are best admired in the sunshine. Part of our Mother’s Day tradition is to get out and browse the tulips at Dow’s Lake. I wimped out because it was too g.d. cold this weekend.

    We did get out to see them during a warm spell the other day (a couple weeks ago? they were really early this year), so I don’t feel entirely sad about not seeing them this weekend.

  12. And we couldn’t even (in the immortal words of Tiny Tim) “tiptoe through the tulips”…

    And I’ll try to get my blog up tonight… They keep expecting me to work here!


  13. Pauline – I did suggest that a large part of the “lameness” was my fault and I’m sure that when you’ve lived here all, or even most of your life, you know of all sorts of fun things to do. However, for tourists (which I still am for the most part), especially on a cold, rainy day it was pretty lame. And then for the “Ambassador” to tell us there really wasn’t anything much to do was the lame icing on the cake. You must admit that was pretty shocking?

    Violetsky – Glad to hear you made it home safe and sound and that I was able to provide some diversion to the overall suckiness of the weather.

    Glen – Hey, that sounds a lot like the Canadian Tulip Festival!! Except for the “warm” part. On the upside, after freezing half to death for 2 days I came to work today to find they finally got the air conditioning going. While it was really hot the last few weeks, the indoor temperature was around 26. Today, when there was a windchill of minus 4 outside, the indoor temperature is about 10.

    Andrea – It’s okay for locals to wimp out and go another time, but what about all those tourists who’ve made a special trip? Why don’t we have anything to entertain them should the weather get nasty – which, let’s face it – is pretty likely this time of year.

    Jazz – I’m so glad to see you got home in one piece. When you didn’t call, I sent the Emergency Reponse Unit to go and find you, but I never heard back from them either. Anyway, someone told me today that Tiny Tim actually did attend the Tulip Festival one year and play his ukelele. Ah, the good old days, when the festival was festive.

  14. LOL@ “Ambassador”. I’ve lived in Ottawa my entire life, and yeah, I do admit some of the people who have jobs dealing with the public can be…moody, grouchy, indifferent. Makes you wonder why that guy became an Ambassador in the first place if he doesn’t have any recommendations for activities or interest in helping anyone.

  15. A new motto:

    “Ottawa…the city that fun forgot.”

    (…though I think you might have already said this in previous posts).

  16. The last few years I’ve gone to the international pavillion at the festival and that’s always been pretty good – including covered areas. Last year it was moved to Lansdowne Park, which was not the best location as there arent any tulips. Last year we also went to a circus school at Major’s Hill Park. We never go to the part of the festival at Dows Lake, because theres never anything to do there.

  17. Pauline – This wasn’t even a teenager. She looked to be in her mid to late 20s and I’m sure those people aren’t getting minimum wage if they’re working for the city. Maybe they could provide a little training or more careful screening of candidates. I don’t know. It was really weird. We should get Zoom to take over the Ottawa Ambassadors – she always knows what’s going on and is always finding interesting things to do around the city. Probably we should have called her.

    Dave – That sure would have made the day. We were looking for a beer tent because I’d read that Beau’s (a great local brewery and an official brewer of the Olympics) in conjunction with a Dutch brewer had developed a special beer just for the tulip festival. It’s made with juniper berries and maple syrup. I was interesting in trying it, but from what I could gather, even though the festival opened this weekend, a lot of stuff won’t be starting until next weekend..

    Andrea – And , we didn’t know until Friday that a whole bunch of the stuff wasn’t going to be happening or available until next weekend. Don’t open the festival a week before there’s a festival, I say.

    Gokalie – Like I mentioned above – all that stuff isn’t on until next weekend..but we didn’t know that until we got there. And yes, it seems kind of odd that most of the tulips are at Dow’s Lake, but there’s nothing else to do there.

  18. Came over from Sanna’s blog to read about the tulip festival that I didn’t know existed !(I’m Dutch)
    -I know about Juliana’s time in Canada, but forgot Margriet was born there. We named my oldest daughter after here -now we say Marguerite -because people here don’t have enough spit to bring out the “gr” in her name.
    Nice of you to host the bloggers:)

  19. Skye – I’ll keep it in mind. I’m thinking one day we’ll have to hire a bus, get a bunch of local bloggers together and do a tour of the US bloggers we all know. That would be cool.

    Jeannette – Well, welcome! I hope you’ll come back and read some of the non-Dutch related posts, too. I grew up with a lot of Dutch people in Southern Ontario, so I know what you mean about needing lots of spit to speak Dutch.

  20. The decline of the Tulip festival has, I think, been somewhat offset by the emergence of the Blues Festival, Folk Festival, and others. I did see a tulip festival pavilion set up on the corner of Sparks and Bank the other night for Tulip festival with live music, etc. There’s no doubt that a damper has been put on things by the weather, though.

  21. Hey Xup,
    I wanted to share this with you. I just recently discovered this online arts magazine and calendar for our town . Since you mentioned you are relatively new to Ottawa I thought you might find the events calendar useful and the other stuff perhaps, interesting.

    www. unfolding.ca