‘I think I can help’: Local communications professional volunteers to assist beleaguered tulip festival

Tulip Festival Kimothy Walker

As the Canadian Tulip Festival tries to stay afloat among financial worries, one local professional has volunteered to run communications for the organization and hopes others might feel compelled to offer their support.

Kimothy Walker, CEO and founder of Tiger Lily Marketing, reached out to the festival’s executive director, Jo Riding, after hearing Riding speak on the radio about the financial challenges facing this year’s event.

“I sent a simple email saying, ‘I think I can help,’” said Walker. “By the end of the day, I was taking over their communications.”

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Due to budget cuts, the festival has had to lay off staff, resulting in what Walker describes as an “overwhelming workload” for Riding. Contributing to that workload was the communications campaign for the event.

“With such an extreme workload, a lot of times executives stop looking outward because they’re looking inward,” said Walker. “You need the space in your mind to think about how to showcase an event like this that’s truly on a world stage. (Riding) was truly just overwhelmed with the workload.”

While she’s only committed to volunteering her time for this year’s festival, Walker said she would love to help for years to come and she’s hoping others will “step up.”

“I don’t want to take away from all the work (Riding) has done by talking about my involvement,” said Walker. “But then again, maybe talking about my role will encourage others to do their part and volunteer in whatever way they can.”

As a native Ottawan and resident of the Glebe, Walker said she has always loved the tulip festival and is excited to “be a loudmouth” in sharing what it has to offer.

By “telling people to come see our tulips,” Walker said she hopes to attract people to the city and help support Ottawa’s small businesses.

“I want to make sure people realize how important tourism is to this city for economic impact, because it impacts everyone, no matter where in this huge city you live,” she explained. “Tourism is so important for our economic stability because people come to see the tulips, then they go to restaurants, rent cars, buy tours, book hotels, and spend money in our community.”

The 72nd annual festival, which runs May 10-20, has a lot to offer again this year. A new water taxi service will load just north of the Carleton University parking lot and go to the festival’s Blacklight Boardwalk. A golf cart shuttle service will run the length of Commissioners Park. A Hop On Hop Off Tulip Tour will take visitors from York Street in the ByWard Market to the main festival site at Commissioners Park.

The festival will feature movies, entertainment, food trucks, and, of course, the more than 300,000 tulips on display at Commissioners Park Dow’s Lake.

The opening ceremonies on May 11 will honour Second World War veteran and RCAF Lancaster tail gunner Ronald “Shorty” Moyes and feature a parade of the Canadian Armed Forces Central Band and a cannon salute from the HMCS Carleton.

In recognition of the RCAF centennial that was celebrated April 1, the ceremony will also see an RCAF fly-by. Kanata-based tech company Calian Group is sponsoring the opening ceremony.

“It will really be quite a grand affair,” said Walker. “It’s just amazing to me that this opening ceremony will happen across from the new Ottawa Hospital (Civic) campus, especially since the tulip festival is because of the Civic campus being host to the Netherlands and the royal family during World War Two.”

Princess Margriet of the Netherlands was born at the Ottawa Civic Hospital during the Second World War. The royal family gifted to Ottawa the tulips as a thank you for sheltering the family and for the role Canada played in the liberation of the Netherlands.

Walker added, “And to also be able to celebrate the RCAF 100 this year, for me, as a military kid, it screamed out to me that I just had to be a part of this.”

At 9 p.m. every night the Sound & Light Story at the movie screen “Operation Manna” will make audiences feel they are part of the heroic RCAF effort to save the starving people of the Netherlands. Adapted from the memoirs of Moyes, this humanitarian operation of incredibly dangerous, low-flying food drops forged a bond of friendship for over seven decades.

The closing ceremonies on May 19 will be capped off with a new 10-minute, 200-drone “Drone Show” over Dow’s Lake.

Walker says that, when she’s travelling abroad, the first thing people mention about Canada is the flag and the second is the tulips. 

“We have someone like (Riding) who works 18 hours each day to save it. I’m really afraid that if we do not nurture this festival, if we didn’t have her and if the community doesn’t work together, we could lose it,” she said. “I certainly hope they ask me to come back if I do a good job on this one. I just want to celebrate everything (Riding) has managed to save.”

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