‘We’re tired, but we’re proud’: Tulip festival organizers look ahead to new funding for 2025

tulip festival

Despite dwindling financial support and budget anxieties, this year’s Canadian Tulip Festival ended on a high note, according to executive director Jo Riding. 

After a rainy start, the sun came out and temperatures went up over the long weekend, bringing out large crowds to Commissioners Park to enjoy the final blooms of the season. 

“It was really, really good,” Riding told OBJ on Tuesday. “The crowds were very busy and happy, and Sunday’s closing ceremony was really beautiful. I don’t have the numbers yet, but it was 35,000 to 40,000 people. The road closure guys said that was a bigger crowd than when Kanye (West) came to town.”

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The ceremony included the extinguishing of the Canadian Remembrance Torch to mark the end of the festival and a special drone show honouring the RCAF. 

“It’s a little more technically complicated than fireworks,” Riding said of the drone show. “So we did have to reset the show once before we actually took off into the air. But there were plenty of oohs and ahhs. The kids around me were adorable. Every time the drones changed shape you heard them shout out what they were seeing.”

Riding admits the months leading up the festival were marked by financial strife. 

Prior to the pandemic, the festival had a budget of more than $800,000, but funding cuts at every level of government dropped that number closer to $550,000 this year. 

Though the festival did receive $130,000 in one-time funding from the federal government through FedDev Ontario, the City of Ottawa’s decision to halve its contribution to $50,000 left an impact, she said. Budget constraints forced the festival to lay off staff, leaving Riding with a much heavier workload. 

Riding said she’s happy to see the festival so successful in spite of the troubles. 

“We’re tired, but we’re proud,” she said. “Just imagine if the city would be willing to work with us, what we could accomplish. If our little team can do this with a tiny budget and less support, just imagine how amazing it could be if it had more support.”

According to Riding, the festival wasn’t left completely adrift financially. As news spread about the funding cuts, longtime lovers of the Canadian Tulip Festival stepped up instead. 

“There were many high-profile companies and folks that have reached out,” said Riding. “They feel that the festival remaining free and remaining commemorative is the right call and they are happy to support. I’ll be heading into sponsorship sales in the next couple of weeks.”

She added that there has also been significant support and goodwill from Veteran Affairs Canada, the RCAF and the Canadian Army. The National Capital Commission is also looking into ways to create other revenue streams for the festival. 

“If we can’t find it with the municipality, then we’ll have to find it in other places,” Riding said. 

Once she’s had a chance to rest, Riding will turn her attention to next year’s festival, and she already has some ideas. 

“As we continue to get our feet under us, our plans for next year include bringing back a bit of a live music component, which we haven’t been able to do since pre-pandemic,” she said. “We also really enjoyed having the festival expand into ByWard Market … so I think we will absolutely return.”

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