Few people today recall that Burns, Palmeter, and Baker are names that once were synonymous with the Apple Blossom Festival. At one time or another, Frank J. Burns, Bob Palmeter and Clifford Baker have been credited with pioneering the festival; all three Kentville men were prominent as organizers during its formative years and all contributed to its early success.
While we don’t know for sure who came up with the idea, we know that in 1933 the Apple Blossom Festival was held in Kentville for the first time and various Valley towns participated. We also know that the 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 has been lost.
That said, there are clues to whom this far-sighted person might be. One of the best candidates is Frank J. Burns. He often spoke of the festival as if it was his idea and he said on more than one occasion he started it. Burns played a prominent role on the committee organizing the first festival and was definitely a founding father.
As the general manager of Kentville Publishing under Clifford Baker, 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.
Perhaps it is 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 a apple blossom festival encompassing the entire valley.
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 of 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.
Looking farther afield in our search for who 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 Wolfville’s weekly newspaper, the Acadian. Early in 1932, Davison writes, the editor of the Acadian suggested an apple blossom festival for the Valley. The editor may not have been the first to suggest a blossom festival since the editorial mentions it was an idea proposed years before and never followed up.
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.
We also have to look seriously at the town of Hantsport when discussing the festival’s roots. There’s concrete evidence that before Kentville hosted the first blossom festival, Hantsport held several similar celebrations and could be recognized as the original home of the event. I was told by a long-time resident of the town that Hantsport’s blossom celebration began in the late 1920s and featured a blossom queen and a 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. However, interviews with Hantsport residents suggest that after their blossom celebration became popular, it proved too big for the town and the annual ball was moved to Kentville and held in the Cornwallis Inn. Perhaps this move spurred the likes of Burns, Palmeter, Baker and others into considering an apple blossom celebration along the line of Kentville’s summer carnivals.