Find 2 of the 3 Canadian Tulip Festivals in B.C.

By Scott McDonald

Jan 04
Tulip Festivals in British Columbia - Chilliwack Tulip Festival and Abbotsford Tulip Festival

Did you know British Columbia is home to not one, but two Tulip Festivals?

Chances are if someone asked you to name your favourite tulip festivals, British Columbia might not be high on your list, at least not yet. Last year the US National Garden Bureau proclaimed 2018 to be the Year of the Tulip, which came on the heels of the World Tulip Society naming British Columbia’s garden gem, The Butchart Gardens, the 2017 World Tulip Garden.  And it is well-deserved, for not only does the 50+ member horticulture team plan and design each annual 300,000+ bulb display a year in advance, sourcing tulips varieties from Holland, and even unexpected places like Canada’s Prince Edward Island; but, they plant and maintain their own extensive test plots, deciding which new varieties will make it into future year’s displays. They even helped develop a tulip variety named after The Garden’s founder, Jennie Butchart. Indisputably, the earliest tulip cultivars which are planted in the unique-in-Canada 8b climate zone, deep in the Sunken Garden, are the first unforced tulips to bloom in Canada, and thus represent the start of Canada’s tulip trail, which literally spans the continent, touching two oceans.

Tulips are of course native to southern Europe, the  Mediterranean, North Africa ,and Asia.  They have been intensively cultivated for at least 400 years and were eaten by the Dutch, as a famine food, during the 1944-45 famine. They are from the onion family, and so are edible. Try this colourful tulip recipe which uses the flowers, rather than there bulbs.

By leveraging the tulip’s natural tendency toward diversity (they were once the most expensive flower in the world), hundreds of years  of breeding and collecting have brought forth a myriad array of flower colours, shapes, and bloom times. Today, Holland produces most of the world’s annual tulip crop, which exceeds 4 billion bulbs annually, but PEI and British Columbia are getting into the act as well.

For Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations in 2017, a red and white tulip, reminding us of the Canadian flag was probably inevitable.. How it came to symbolize and captivate Canadians from shore to shinning shore, most noticeably in Ottawa, which is known for it’s annual tulip festivals is a story in itself.

The Canada 150 Tulip story

The tulip is a historic and distinctive symbol of the Canadian capital. As the Official Gardener of Canada’s Capital, a team of landscape architects and designers at the National Capital Commission developed the Canada 150 Tulip, a special tulip designed to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. Exactly mimicking the colours of the Canadian flag, the Canada 150 Tulip immediately conquered the hearts of Canadians at home and around the world. Read this wonderful  presentation of the Canada 150 Tulip Story  by Daniel Feeny, Director , Marketing & Partnerships | National Capital Commission (NCC) at the annual Communities in Bloom symposium in 2017. It is a a tale of national outreach, collaboration of key partners, and its remarkable success in engaging Canadians.

Tulips of the Valley - Chilliwack Tulip Festival

Have you figured out where the BC Tulip Festivals are located or what they are called yet? The largest and oldest tulip festival in British Columbia is Gardens BC member, Tulips of the Valley’s, Chilliwack Tulip Festival. 2019 will mark the 13th year of the festival. The Onos family immigrated to Canada and started Onos Greenhouses in 1990, doing what Dutch farmers do best, growing cut flowers, but inevitably this led to bulbs, especially tulip bulbs — and that meant fields of tulips. So, began the Tulips of the Valley Festival, a garden tourism highlight of the Fraser Valley and Chilliwack.  Not content will just tulips, hyacinths and double daffodils, made their appearance in 2018, in many colourful hectares of millions of tulips and fields of hyacinths and daffodils.

World Tulip Summit - Order of the Tulip

The Chilliwack Tulip Festival has grown so popular, that in October 2017, they were recognized at the 7th Bi–Annual World Tulip Summit, in Ottawa, ON and received the Order of the Tulip, an international award to, recognize individuals from around the world who have made an outstanding contribution to the promotion and/or celebration of the tulip. Kate Onos and Tulips of the Valley were inducted specifically for bringing beauty to everyone, by introducing tulips to British Columbia and Western Canada.

Tulips of the Valley's Chilliwack Sunflower Festival

And being flower growers at heart, it was not a surprise to see them extend the tulip festival concept to another beauty, the Sunflower. Where the tulip symbolizes the beginning of spring and the end of winter, the Sunflower is a strong symbol of summer. The first annual Chilliwack Sunflower Festival debuted in August 2018 and saw them plant 17 different varieties to enjoy. Over 3 acres was planted in the giant Mammoth sunflower that can reach heights of 12 feet and taller. 1.5 acres was planted in a cut flower orange variety which reache heights between 5 and 6 feet.  The fields were completed with an acre of show garden with 15 different varieties of different heights, colours and bloom sizes for visitors to enjoy.

BLOOM - Abbotsford Tulip Festival aerial

Photo credit: BLOOM, Abbotsford Tulip Festival

The second British Columbia Tulip Festival, with 2.5 million tulips and tens of thousands of visitors, is BLOOM, The Abbotsford Tulip Festival, founded by Alexis Warmerdam, a passionate third- generation Canadian tulip farmer and fourth generation bulb grower. The festival’s breathtaking techno-coloured display of 10 acres of tulips in a beautiful country setting has attracted visitors from all over the world and is quickly becoming an annual spring must-see event.

Now in its fourth year, BLOOM has gained international attention for its magnificent array of endless tulip varieties and stunning country scenery. The 5-week festival, BLOOM has become a must-see springtime attraction. With over 2.5 million tulips in bloom at various stages throughout the festival, visitors are able to walk through 10 acres of fields and marvel at one of the most vivid display of floral beauty British Columbia has to offer.

Indeed, these two Canadian tulip festivals are a must see for anyone who loves tulips!

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About the Author

Digital strategist, destination marketer, and garden tourism enthusiast, Scott can be found searching out the next offering on the BC Ale Trail or discovering something unique about a garden and then writing about it. Previously a digital marketer at The Butchart Gardens and Canada 150 Community Leader for the City of Colwood; he is a member of Garden Communicators International, sits on the Victoria Nikkei Cultural Society | ビクトリア日系文化協会 board, and co-edits the Victoria NIKKEI FORUM, their bilingual Japanese-English newsletter. In his spare time he volunteers in his community of Colwood, at the Victoria Cool Aid Society, and recently accepted a position on the board of the Colwood Garden Society.