“I surmise that Frank Burns – ‘Mr. Festival’ – being a newspaper man, would have many connections across North America,” Kentville historian Louis Comeau writes. Comeau was commenting on my recent column about the origin of the apple blossom festival. Frank Burns played a prominent role in organising the first festival and was one of the founders.
“Also,” Comeau surmises, “local farmers here were in touch with state-of-the-art farming practices across the continent. These contacts would have exposed them to other communities and the fact that they had festivals of their own.”
Comeau said that a long time ago he became interested in discovering where the idea for our apple blossom festival originated. His research lead to a couple of interesting discoveries. “Firstly, there were many, many other apple blossom festivals (at one time I counted 31 of them). Secondly, several of them were much older than ours.”
And, said Comeau, the format for our festival “was very near exact” to the festivals his research turned up. This was “maybe just a coincidence but it’s an interesting similarity,” he concludes, suggesting that our festival fathers may have been aware of these earlier blossom celebrations.
While our apple blossom festival has the distinction of being the first in Canada, it can’t claim North American honours. Louis Comeau discovered that the earliest festival in North America “seems to be the Washington State apple blossom festival.” This event was founded in 1919.
The Washington State festival website, which Comeau suggested I check, mentions their festival was the brainchild of a Mrs. E. Wagner, a native of New Zealand. Wagner “enjoyed the festivals of her childhood so much,” reads the website, “that she suggested beginning a similar festival in the Wenatchee Valley.”
Now it might be a bit of a stretch to link a New Zealand apple blossom festival with the Valley event. There could be a connection, of course. As Louis Comeau suggested, Frank Burns would have connections across North America and may have heard of the Washington State festival through the newspaper grapevine. Then there’s the apple growers grapevine to be considered. Word could have filtered down from other growers about the blossom celebration in the States that was so popular and so appropriate.
Bottom line, it seems that the idea of an apple blossom celebration isn’t original to the Annapolis Valley. As I mentioned in a previous column, it may not have even been an original idea with Kentville’s Board of Trade, the group that got the ball rolling with the first Valley festival in 1933.
In 2003, Advertiser/Register columnist Annie Bird interviewed Evelyn Tatterie Armstrong for an article in the Hants Journal. Ms. Armstrong recalled participating in an apple blossom festival in Hantsport circa 1931. Armstrong said that the Hantsport celebration began with an apple blossom dance sponsored by a prominent orchardist Laurie Sanford.
The site for the dance was Sanford’s warehouse along the railway track. Armstrong recalled that a blossom queen was selected and she was runner-up.
In the article Annie Bird writes that the blossom dance and the festivities “got so big” Mr. Sanford and other orchardists throughout the Valley met and decided to hold the “Queen’s Ball in the Cornwallis Inn.” Bird mentions as well that later, when Hantport’s mayor B. T. Smith was chairman of the Apple Blossom Festival Committee, he noted that his town had originated the festival. Perhaps he wasn’t aware of the Washington/New Zealand connection.