Tulip festival organizers aim for ‘zero-impact’ with new nighttime light show

Canadian Tulip Festival

While it may seem strange for an event that celebrates sunshine and flowers, the Canadian Tulip Festival is introducing a new nighttime spectacle for its 71st edition in response to concerns from the community. 

The year’s festival, which kicks off May 12, will feature a new light and sound show every night on the Dow’s Lake boardwalk throughout the festival. The show honours the Battle of the Atlantic as part of the festival’s partnership with the Canadian Naval Reserve, which is celebrating its centennial this year. 

Featuring flashing lights, fog effects and water displays, festival executive director Jo Riding said the event is suitable for families. It replaces the festival’s usual Victoria Day fireworks display, which Riding said will not take place this year. 

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“We wanted to ensure that we did something that was affordable but also provided that adrenaline rush that you get with fireworks,” she said. “And it’s every night for 11 nights, as opposed to one 15-minute show.”

Riding said the decision to discontinue the fireworks show was based on community feedback and an effort by the festival to be more environmentally friendly.

“We are doing a basically zero-impact show versus having sulphur and paper products that can fall into Dow’s Lake,” she said. “We’ve also had many folks express concern about the fireworks, the noise and how it affects people with pets and certainly folks with (post-traumatic stress disorder).”

The festival will bring back other evening events that it started to prioritize last year, such as free movies in the park, including a 2 p.m. children’s movie matinee and 7 p.m. feature film, where visitors can bring picnic blankets and purchase items from the food trucks. When the nightly light show isn’t on, there will also be a blacklight boardwalk from 8 to 10 p.m.

“It shows you what the tulips look like to a pollinator,” said Riding. “They’re all lit with UV light and you’ll notice the flowers and pollen glow so you can see the trails they leave for each other. It’s a really fun and funky way to learn a little bit about the value of pollinators and see the tulips in a whole different way.”

Just as the City of Ottawa focuses its attention on growing the local nightlife economy, Riding said the festival sees the benefits of late-night activities.

“People loved it,” she said. “They’re eager for something new and something different. It’s important that we keep it vibrant in the evening. People really seemed to appreciate it last year, so it was a no-brainer to bring it back.”

As for the tulips themselves, Riding said they’re out in full bloom and organizers expect a bumper crop to continue through the end of May. 

“We’re going to be set for a great display for the next two weeks,” she said. “It’s certainly been a little warmer than it has been in previous years, but this will allow folks a chance to see the late bloomers later than usual. The tulip is incredibly hardy. It can deal with a lot of adversity.”

The Canadian Tulip Festival will take place from May 12 to 22 at Commissioners Park and other locations across Ottawa. For a full schedule and details, visit www.tulipfestival.ca

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