Legacy – The Canadian Tulip Festival by Sarah Marsaw Courtois

Honoured Veteran, RCAF WWII Lancaster Tail Gunner, Ronald “Shorty” Moyes & Canadian Tulip Festival Volunteer, Adélaïde Caillet (photo by Greg Scriver)

To actually say “That’s a wrap on the 2024 Canadian Tulip Festival” makes me both sad, and extremely proud. Our 11-day festival had well over 525 volunteers, filling over 1300 shifts, engaging with nearly half a million guests (final numbers tba)!

I jumped into this position relatively late for a festival this large. Lack of desperately needed funding from governments at all levels, meant that the necessary staff was laid off last year, and only a small handful, on a part-time level, were rehired in order to help ensure the public could have the Festival they expect.

The Canadian Tulip Festival is a small, non-profit charity. We rely on donations, sponsors and philanthropy. We also rely on government grants and funding, but in the most basic of terms, we rely on ‘support’. The residents in the city of Ottawa, along with those in the national capital region, and tourists and guests from around the world expect, yes, expect the Canadian Tulip Festival to happen every year. It’s not just about walking around tulip beds to take lovely pictures. It’s about the overall experience including entertainment, food options, but most importantly, honouring the TRUE reason for this annual event.

This year marked the 72nd anniversary of the Festival and honouring the gift of tulips from the Royal Family of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. We not only honour that gift from WWII and the continued friendship between Canadians and the Dutch, but we also honour our military.

When Jo Riding , our Executive Director, came on board several years ago, she vowed to ensure that this gift to ALL Canadians would remain free and accessible for all Canadians, forever. But we can’t do that without support.

The staff and volunteers of the Canadian Tulip Festival believe in that mission and promise. No one wants to charge an entry fee. Imagine having to pay in order to access a gift that is yours? It’s not right. We won’t have it.

Volunteers at The Canadian Tulip Festival 2024

The volunteers that came out this year blew my mind. They knew the story of the Festival. They believe in what we are accomplishing. And they provided absolutely outstanding guest service. Many of them went above and beyond in a variety of ways, including providing overtime hours unconditionally, jumping in to help with ad hoc administration (which should typically be a paid, year-round position), and more.

An example of what this festival means to locals, visitors and volunteers, can be summed up if we look at one of our volunteers, Adélaïde Caillet .

Adélaïde showed up for her shift on May 11th, not knowing what the day would hold, other than she’d be supporting our Opening Ceremonies in some way. She was designated to drive one of our Chartwell People Movers – the golf carts, for guests at the Festival. She donned a “Je Me Souviens” hat, and was professional and present. She was asked, randomly amongst all the ‘People Mover’ volunteers, to drive this year’s honoured Second World War Veteran, RCAF WWII Lancaster Tail Gunner, Ronald “Shorty” Moyesdirectly to his seat.

After he was seated, Adélaïde came and stood beside me at the side of the stage. Her eyes were filled with tears. I turned to her and said, “I know, it’s really emotional and moving, isn’t it?” Emotion that I could not possibly understand spread across her face, and she said, “It’s more than that. I’m so honoured to have driven him. I am from Normandy”.

I turned back to look at Shorty, then back to her, and so many thoughts and emotions ran through me.

This. THIS is what the Canadian Tulip Festival is about. We need our governments to pay attention. We need their respect, and their support.

All festivals have a story… a reason. They all have a purpose, and they all have a place. Big, small, formal, fun, artistic, historic, sporty…etc. They all have a place. They all have their version of a “Shorty and Adélaïde”story.

They all have volunteers stepping in to bring to the communities what they need and deserve. Ottawa is known to be a hot spot for Festivals, and we should be proud of the community building these festivals do, not to mention the tourism revenue generated.

The Canadian Tulip Festival, under the passionate, compassionate and dedicated leadership of Ms Riding, vows to continue to be free for everyone, forever. She and the team that includes staff and volunteers (including me) promise that we will continue this Legacy.


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