The ori­gin of the Ap­ple Blos­som Fes­ti­val

Annapolis Valley Register - - FRONT PAGE - Ed Cole­man

When he was in­ter­viewed sev­eral years ago about his in­volve­ment with the first Ap­ple Blos­som Fes­ti­val, for­mer Kentville mayor Garth Calkin re­called dif­fi­culty or­ga­niz­ing the Grand Street parade.

“We had as­sem­bled early Satur­day on the Sana­to­rium grounds and it was pan­de­mo­nium at first,” Calkin re­mem­bered. “We had 50 floats with ap­ple blos­som themes, coop­ers mak­ing bar­rels, floats with Mi’kmaqs mak­ing bas­kets, school kids in danc­ing troupes, dec­o­rated cars and trucks and it was a prob­lem get­ting ev­ery­thing sorted out. At the railway sta­tion, five bands waited to join the parade and we couldn’t be late.”

The date was Satur­day, June 2, 1933. Even­tu­ally, parade chair­man Calkin sorted out the par­tic­i­pants and lined them up. At 9:30 a.m., as per a no­tice ad­ver­tised in The Ad­ver­tiser that week, the parade de­parted the San grounds, wound down Corn­wal­lis Street and crossed the Corn­wal­lis River. At the railway sta­tion, the bands joined the pro­ces­sion and the parade went up Aberdeen to Main Street and then to Me­mo­rial Park.

“When the parade reached Main Street, one band af­ter an­other struck up,” Calkin re­mem­bered. “This, to me, the bu­gle fan­fares, meant the first Ap­ple Blos­som Fes­ti­val in Nova Sco­tia was of­fi­cially un­der­way.”

In reality, it was the first ap­ple blos­som fes­ti­val in Canada.

In­stant suc­cess

The 1933 fes­ti­val was an in­stant suc­cess. And while it soon be­came a Val­ley-wide cel­e­bra­tion, it be­gan in Kentville, its roots planted in a se­ries of sum­mer car­ni­vals or­ga­nized to cel­e­brate the town’s an­niver­sary. In 1826, the town for­mally changed its name from Hor­ton Cor­ner to Kentville. As the an­niver­sary of the change ap­proached in 1926, the town fa­thers de­cided it was an oc­ca­sion to cel­e­brate; the town’s Board of Trade or­ga­nized a three-day car­ni­val with a queen, parade with floats and bands, sport­ing events and gi­ant street dance and va­ri­ety show.

The pop­u­lar­ity of this event en­cour­aged civic lead­ers to or­ga­nize an­other sum­mer car­ni­val in 1928. The theme of the sec­ond cel­e­bra­tion was his­tor­i­cal.

At that time, thanks to a rapidly ex­pand­ing ap­ple in­dus­try, a bustling rail­road and a fad­ing de­pres­sion, the Annapolis Val­ley was pros­per­ing. Boosted by the railway’s pres­ence, ap­ples had be­come the main­stay of the Val­ley’s econ­omy; ap­ple ex­ports were up with records crops, the likes of which had never been seen be­fore. When the Kentville Board of Trade met in 1932 to or­ga­nize an­other town cel­e­bra­tion, it was de­cided to use ap­ple blossoms as the theme. The tour was main­tained for the fes­ti­val and railway stops at var­i­ous points up and down the Val­ley were in­cluded.

Records show the Kentville Board of Trade, which in­cluded 12 mem­bers of the town’s mer­chant class, gath­ered at the Corn­wal­lis Inn in early spring. The de­ci­sion was made to pro­ceed with a blos­som fes­ti­val the fol­low­ing year, hope­fully to in­clude other Val­ley towns, us­ing the for­mat set for the sum­mer car­ni­vals.

At the meet­ing, sev­eral ob­jec­tives were for the fes­ti­val. Fore­most was pub­li­ciz­ing the ro­man­tic idea of ap­ple or­chards in full bloom with hopes of lur­ing tourists to the Val­ley. With the ap­ple in­dus­try and railway sup­port­ing it fi­nan­cially, the board pub­li­cized the fes­ti­val widely to at­tract lu­cra­tive mar­kets across North America and in Europe.

First fes­ti­val

Af­ter nearly a year of plan­ning, the stage was set for open­ing the first Ap­ple Blos­som Fes­ti­val. To cover costs, re­quests had gone out for gov­ern­ment grants. The railway had agreed to put on spe­cial fes­ti­val runs up and down the Val­ley. Schools and lo­cal re­tail­ers had been in­vited to par­tic­i­pate and Val­ley towns were asked to en­ter princesses and floats.

The fes­ti­val of­fi­cially was un­der­way at 2 p.m. on Fri­day, June 2, when Kentville Mayor

G. W. Lyons ad­dressed a rally at Me­mo­rial Park and de­clared the fes­ti­val open.

At the con­clu­sion of the mayor’s address, a cho­rus of more than 1,000 Val­ley school chil­dren per­formed sev­eral songs ac­com­pa­nied by a 60-piece orches­tra. At 4:30 p.m., a band con­cert, fol­lowed by or­chard tours, took place. At the park that evening, a mu­si­cal “ap­ple pageant” was per­formed; the evening con­cluded with what was to be­come a stan­dard fea­ture of fu­ture blos­som fes­ti­vals, a grand ap­ple blos­som ball at the Corn­wal­lis Inn.

Fol­low­ing the grand street parade on Satur­day, two more band con­certs and an­other or­chard tour took place. Ad­ver­tis­ing for the parade noted that “Val­ley Queens and ladies-in-wait­ing” would par­tic­i­pate in the parade, but no men­tion is made that corona­tion of a fes­ti­val queen would take place. How­ever, that af­ter­noon on the grounds of the Do­min­ion Ex­per­i­men­tal Sta­tion, Miss Mary Ar­mour, Princess Mid­dle­ton, was crowned Queen An­napolisa 1.

Event or­ga­niz­ers

There’s some ques­tion about who was first to sug­gest an ap­ple blos­som theme for the Kentville fes­ti­val. Harold Wood­man, in his his­tory of the blos­som fes­ti­val, sug­gests it could’ve been Frank J. Burns.

In his late years, Burns of­ten spoke of the fes­ti­val as if it was his idea and he was a found­ing fa­ther, play­ing a prom­i­nent role on the com­mit­tee or­gan­is­ing the fes­ti­val.

As the gen­eral man­ager of Kentville Pub­lish­ing (pub­lish­ers of The Ad­ver­tiser), Burns also played a key role in keep­ing the fes­ti­val alive and flour­ish­ing. In his book, Wood­man called Burns “Mr. Fes­ti­val,” not­ing he served for 10 years as fes­ti­val pres­i­dent and was hon­orary pres­i­dent un­til his death in 1977. It was Burns who started the blos­som fes­ti­val mag­a­zine, a sup­ple­ment that’s still pub­lished to­day.

The Ad­ver­tiser’s pub­lisher, Clif­ford L. Baker, also comes into con­sid­er­a­tion as the first to sug­gest a blos­som fes­ti­val theme. Let­ters pub­lished af­ter the fes­ti­val started claimed it was Baker’s idea.

Wood­man also sug­gested a third can­di­date for this hon­our: Kentville mer­chant Bob Pal­me­ter, the man who cre­ated the fa­mous Ap­ple Blos­som China pat­tern.

Hantsport his­tory

It should also be noted for many years, right up to 1932, ap­ple grow­ers in Hantsport had or­ga­nized a one-day cel­e­bra­tion with an ap­ple blos­som theme. Ac­cord­ing to long­time Hantsport res­i­dent Ray Ri­ley, the event, re­plete with a queen and a ball, was held in ap­ple ware­houses in the town.

The Hantsport or­ga­nizer was B. C. Sil­ver who, says Ri­ley, “took it to Kentville when it got too big to han­dle here.” Sil­ver played a prom­i­nent role in set­ting up mu­si­cal pro­grams when the fes­ti­val opened in Kentville.

Ref­er­ence has to be made to what was said re­gard­ing the fes­ti­val in the Wolfville his­tory, Mud Creek. The editor of the his­tory, James Doyle Dav­i­son, notes that early in 1932, Wolfville’s news­pa­per, The Aca­dian, sug­gested an ap­ple blos­som fes­ti­val for the en­tire Annapolis Val­ley. The editor of The Aca­dian took no credit for orig­i­nat­ing this idea, say­ing it was some­thing pro­posed many times years be­fore.

The bot­tom line is that the blos­som fes­ti­val re­mains one of the premier events in Nova Sco­tia and is still go­ing strong. Af­ter more than 80 years of cel­e­brat­ing our ap­ple her­itage, and with count­less town, vil­lages and peo­ple in­volved in get­ting the first fes­ti­val un­der­way and keep­ing it go­ing, the ques­tion of who started it all likely is moot.


A 1932 photo show­ing the first Ap­ple Blos­som Fes­ti­val float parade. The princess, left, on the float in the fore­ground is Hazel (White) Pul­sifer.


A photo used in the 1983 edi­tion of the Ap­ple Blos­som Fes­ti­val sou­venir pro­gram of a church in Ca­nard sur­rounded by ap­ple blossoms.


The Vil­lage of Port Wil­liams’ Grand Street Parade float from 1950 is pic­tured pass­ing the Corn­wal­lis Inn in Kentville.

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