Meet Kate Onos-Gilbert & the Onos Family; Creators of the Harrison Tulip Festival

Ever wonder how British Columbia’s longest running – and much beloved – tulip festival came to be? In 1996, Kate Gilbert met Dave Onos, and 2 years later Kate became a part of the Onos Family, planting the seeds for what would blossom into the Harrison Tulip Festival. From 1990 to 2005, Onos Greenhouses diligently nurtured tulip bulbs on rented land throughout Rosedale. These bulbs not only flourished in the fields but also became the foundation for their cut tulip operation in Rosedale.

Kate, a pediatric Occupational Therapist by profession, felt a calling to share the beauty of these fields with the wider world. Thus, in 2006, Tulips of the Valley was born – British Columbia’s inaugural tulip festival. Initially, the festival welcomed visitors on a donation basis, with all proceeds benefiting the Fraser Valley Child Development organization, where Kate had dedicated a decade of her career. Concurrently, Kate had set her sights on selling Canadian-grown tulip bulbs, but as the festival gained momentum over the first five years, her vision evolved towards agritourism.

Over the course of a decade, from its humble beginnings on Seabird Island in Agassiz, Tulips of the Valley burgeoned into an event drawing over 30,000 attendees in 2015. However, in 2016, the decision was made to relocate the festival to Chilliwack, securing new rented land to cultivate their beloved tulips. Thus, in 2017, the Chilliwack Tulip Festival was inaugurated, helmed by Kate and her dedicated family, now including 3 children.

Yet, the winds of change blew once more in May of 2023, when fortune smiled upon Kate and her family. They acquired a picturesque family farm nestled in Western Agassiz, poised to be transformed into the perfect agritourism haven.

Throughout the festival’s 18-year journey under Kate’s stewardship, it evolved from a simple field of flowers into an immersive experience, complete with unique photo opportunities. Visitors have delighted in Dutch windmills, a 1950s Morris convertible, raised platforms, and iconic swing sets, among other charming features. Adding to the fun are lawn games, a festival store, and food trucks, making this the perfect family-friendly attraction.

Kate’s dedication and innovation haven’t gone unnoticed on the international stage. She’s been honored with prestigious awards, including the Order of the Tulip from the World Tulip Summit Society held in Ottawa in 2017, the Marketing Tourism award from Tourism Chilliwack in 2018, and the Flower Festival of the Year award at the International Garden Tourism Conference in Victoria, BC, in 2019.

Meanwhile, Onos Greenhouses Ltd, alongside the festival’s growth, has flourished. Today, they stand as the primary supplier of fresh-cut local tulips and hyacinths in British Columbia, with their blooms gracing tables from Manitoba to California.

As the petals of time unfurl, Kate and the Onos Family continue to sow the seeds of beauty, community, and agritourism, nurturing their vision into vibrant reality. And with the dawn of the Harrison Tulip Festival, a new chapter begins, promising an abundance of colorful blooms and unforgettable experiences for all who venture to visit.

The Harrison Tulip Festival acknowledges and is honoured to be located on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territories of the Cheam, Sts’ailes, Sq’éwlets and Seabird Island Peoples.