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Aga Khan Park’s Story on the Tulip, and Ottawa’s Fantastic 2021 Tulip Festival Through the Lens of Nurin Merchant
A few days before the celebration of Navroz on March 21, 2021, the Aga Khan Park in Toronto put up several display panels explaining the significance of the New Year and the importance of the spring season in world faiths and traditions. Rumi’s poems shown on a couple of panels made references to numerous flowers and the tulip was not forgotten.
Four of some 20 panels that are still on display at the Aga Khan Park are dedicated to the tulip, explaining the flower’s cultural and mystical significance in Muslim traditions, and especially in the Ottoman Empire, how the flower got introduced into Europe and, finally, why the tulip is one of Canada’s most important spring flowers — and this is where Ottawa, Canada’s capital city, enters the scene as it has been host to the largest tulip festival in Canada for decades. The festival is held annually during the first 2-3 weeks of May. More than 300,000 tulips are planted near Dows Lake and along the scenic Colonel by Drive and Queen Elizabeth Drive, which run parallel to each other, and are separated by the Rideau Canal. Tens of thousands of tulips are also planted at Major Hill’s Park, which lies across from the National Art Gallery and behind the USA embassy on Sussex Drive. What a marvellous show it is.
I am delighted to present my photos that were taken during the first weekend of May 2021. The tulip season is very short-lived and many were still in the blooming phase when I took these photos on a nice sunny day. Enjoy the photos, and I sincerely hope that you will visit Ottawa to see the beautiful fall colours in October and then again next year for the spring tulip festival. Hopefully, the Covid-19 pandemic will then be over, although we might still be wearing masks for quite some time to come!
The following is a transcript of the text shown on the panel “The Tulip” at the Aga Khan Park in Toronto:
Among the most popular flowers associated with the mystical spring gardens is the tulip, metaphor of the sublime, perfect beauty of the Divine, but also associated with passion of lovers who sacrifice themselves to be one with the beloved. The first tulips are said to have originated in Central Asia. Turkic tribes are said to have taken them westwards as symbols of spring and new life. Over the centuries, the tulip became venerated in the Islamic world for both its beauty and its mystical associations. The English word ‘tulip’ derives from the Turkish and Persian word for ‘turban’ (`tuelband), which it was believed to resemble. In Persian and Turkish, however, the tulip is called laleh, its letters identical to those used to spell out the name for God – ‘Allah’. Mystics furthermore likened the in-bloom tulip to the perfect Muslim, as it bowed its head in modesty and submission before God in the spring breeze.
The Tulip in the Ottoman Empire
The following is a transcript of the text shown on the panel “The Tulip in the Ottoman Empire” at the Aga Khan Park in Toronto:
In the Ottoman empire, which ruled large swaths of the Muslim and Eastern European world from Constantinople between 1453 and 1922, the tulip pervaded all aspects of cultural life. In the sultans’ palace, 920 gardeners were needed at one point to maintain their prized tulips. Cultivating and cross-breeding rare tulips was a sophisticated hobby among the royal and religious elite, with new variants of the flower highly sought after and extremely profitable. The ideal tulip was almond-shaped and dagger-petalled, with needle-sharp points — a motif extensively referenced in the contemporary arts of the time. The first Istanbul tulip festival was held in Istanbul in the early 1700s. Some 2000 individually named tulip varieties were known at the time. Today, the annual April Tulip Festival is again a highlight in Istanbul.
The Tulip in Europe
The following is a transcript of the text shown on the panel “The Tulip in Europe” at the Aga Khan Park in Toronto:
In Europe, the first tulip bulbs were introduced by Ogier Ghiselain de Busbecq (1522-64), the Habsburg ambassador to the court of the Ottoman sultans in Istanbul. From Busbecq’s home country Austria the tulip made its way to the Netherlands. By the 17th century, Holland was the unrivalled centre of tulipmania, with individual rare bulbs sold for the price of Amsterdam mansions, and many merchants going bankrupt in the face of inflated and reckless tulip speculation. At the same time, the Netherlands now supplied the Ottoman empire with bulbs for their own lavish tulip festivals. Ever since then, public opinion has associated the tulip with the Netherlands rather than its true homelands farther to the east.
The Dutch Connection, and the Tulip in Canada
The following is a transcript of the text shown on the panel “The Dutch Connection” at the Aga Khan Park in Toronto:
Today, the tulip counts as one of Canada’s most popular spring flowers. But how did it get here? During the Second World War, the Dutch Princess Juliana and her two young daughters were evacuated to Ottawa, and in 1943, the Princess gave birth to her third child, Margriet, at the city’s Civic Hospital. When the war ended, and the royal family was able to return home to their liberated nation, they decided to express their gratitude to Canada by sending 10,000 tulip bulbs to the capital — a gesture that has since become an annual tradition and symbol of everlasting friendship between the two nations.
Date posted: May 6, 2021.
Dr. Nurin Merchant received her veterinary medicine degree with distinction from the Ontario Veterinary College (University of Guelph) in 2019, and now works as a veterinarian in Ontario. Born and raised in Ottawa, Nurin completed her international baccalaureate (IB) program at Colonel By Secondary School before proceeding to the University of Guelph for an undergraduate degree in Biological Sciences which she passed with Honours. She then pursued veterinary medicine at the same school. Nurin enjoys hiking, loves nature and, of course, animals. She is also an artist. She paints, sculpts as well as designs and makes greeting cards during her spare time. She had two beautiful bunnies Pistachio and Canela, until Pistachio recently passed away from an illness. Like Canela, Nurin had acquired Pistachio from an animal care and rescue facility after the death of her very first rabbit, Wobbles.
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