While it’s publicized as a Valley event and the majority and towns and villages between Windsor and Digby participate, I believe Kentville could rightly call itself the home of the Apple Blossom Festival.
The first Blossom Festival, which was held in Kentville, seems to have resulted from a series of earlier summer celebrations in the shire town. The celebrations were dubbed “Old Home Week,” “Old Home Summer Celebration,” and the like. Kentville’s 1928 summer carnival, which saluted the Planters and had a historical theme throughout, called itself a “Valley Pageant.” Since various Valley communities participated, this event may have been the forerunner of the apple blossom festival. As will blossom festivals in later years, the summer carnival featured a “queen” of the event, a Miss Helen Wickwire dressed to represent Nova Scotia.
From reading newspaper accounts of the 1928 carnival, one can see that the format for the first Apple Blossom Festival of 1933 is already established. There is a grand street parade through downtown Kentville with floats (100 in all) decorated cars, dignitaries and bands; some 3,000 people watched the mile-long 1928 parade which for the most part followed today’s festival route and terminated with a concert.
In his book on the history of the Apple Blossom Festival, Harold Woodman suggests that Kentville can be credited with originating the event or, to be precise, Kentville business leaders can be credited. Mr. Woodman mentions in particular the former publisher of The Advertiser, Clifford L. Baker, as being the first to suggest an Apple Blossom Festival. Woodman quotes two sources who attributed to Mr. Baker the original idea for an annual celebration with a blossom theme.
Clifford L. Baker apparently played a prominent role in organizing the summer carnivals that preceded the Blossom Festival; and he is mentioned in newspaper accounts as adding a personal touch to Kentville’s 1928 carnival. “There was a moment of silence – the band and orchestra crashed into the strains of ‘Rule Britannia’ and the ‘Hymn to Nova Scotia’, composed by Clifford L. Baker was sung by the entire stage group of 400 people,” reads a newspaper account of the 1928 carnival. (Mr. Baker’s composition, called “an original piece” in the account, has apparently been lost.)
In my early days with this newspaper, I had the pleasure and the honour of associating with one of the festival founders, Frank Burns. In his later years, Mr. Burns often came into The Advertiser, where he was once general manager, and we had many long talks. I questioned Mr. Burns often about the early days of the festival. From our discussions, I have no doubt that both Mr. Burns and Clifford Baker were the main movers and shakers in originating the Blossom Festival. Burns was modest about his contribution but on one occasion he told me, “I guess Baker and I were the first push the idea of a Valley-wide blossom festival.”
As mentioned, Kentville’s summer carnivals and old home festivals established the pattern for the Blossom Festival. In fact, some of the first Blossom Festival committee members had previously helped to organize the Kentville carnivals. Harold Woodman pays tribute to one of these committee members in his book and at the same time confirms the carnival-Blossom Festival connection: “Bob Palmeter was a member of the management committee of the Kentville Summer Carnival, which paved the way for the Apple Blossom Festival.”