Okay, who came up with the original idea of holding a Valley-wide pageant with an apple blossom the theme?
We don’t know for sure. What we do know is that 80 some years ago the first apple blossom festival was held in Kentville and various Valley towns participated. We also know a successful format used in summer carnivals hosted in Kentville (1926 and 1928) was adopted by the festival fathers. But the identity of the individual – if it was an individual – who first promoted the blossom festival idea has been lost, due mainly due to the passage of time.
However, there are clues to who this far-sighted person might be. One of the candidates is Frank J. Burns. He often spoke of the festival as if it was his baby and he told me on more than one occasion he started it. Burns played a prominent role on the committee organizing the first festival and definitely was a founding father.
As the general manager of Kentville Publishing, Burns played a key role in keeping the festival alive and flourishing. In his book on the blossom festival, Harold Woodman called Burns “Mr. Festival,” noting he served for 10 years as festival president beginning in 1938 and was honorary president until his death in 1977. Burns is credited with bringing the blossom festival to the attention of newsmakers across Canada and the U.S.
Perhaps it may be Clifford Baker, publisher of The Advertiser, who deserves credit for conceiving the blossom festival. “No one can say today who first mentioned the idea out loud, but it very well could have been Clifford L. Baker,” writes Harold Woodman in his festival history. Woodman mentions a letter published in the Chronicle-Herald by G. M. Masters, who apparently was involved with the early festivals. Masters declared in the letter that Clifford Baker had been the first to suggest an apple blossom festival.
Baker was prominent in the summer carnivals that preceded the first festival. In the Kentville history (The Devils Half Acre) Mabel Nichols notes that in the finale of the 1928 carnival, all the performers who were in a musical united to sing a hymn of praise called Hymn to Nova Scotia. The hymn was written especially for the carnival, by Clifford Baker, writes Nichols.
Looking farther afield in our search for whoever first suggested an apple blossom festival, we turn to the book Mud Creek, the Wolfville history compiled by James Doyle Davison. In the book Davison refers to an editorial appearing in the Wolfville weekly newspaper, the Acadian. Early in 1932, Davison writes, the editor of the Acadian suggested an apple blossom festival for the Valley. The editor (Paul Davidson?) may not have been the first to suggest a blossom festival since the editorial mentions it was an idea proposed years before.
Getting back to Harold Woodman and his festival history, he writes that one of the founders was Bob Palmeter, a Kentville retailer who created the famous pattern for Apple Blossom China. When the Kentville Board of Trade was exploring the possibility of a springtime celebration, Woodman says, it was Palmeter “who brought matters to a head” by suggesting an apple blossom festival.
Finally, we have to look at the town of Hantsport when discussing the festival’s roots. There are claims that before Kentville hosted the first blossom festival, Hantsport held several similar celebrations and should be recognized as the home of the event. I was told by a long-time resident of the town that Hantsport’s blossom celebration began in the 1920s and featured a blossom queen and blossom ball.
Harold Woodman mentions the Hantsport celebration in his book on the apple blossom festival. Woodman said he was unable to discover “a direct connection” between the Hantsport celebration and the Valley’s apple blossom festival.