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A changing world: Looking back at 86 years since the Apple Blossom Festival was founded

A historic photo of the 1935 Apple Blossom Festival's Grand Parade.
A historic photo of the 1935 Apple Blossom Festival's Grand Parade. - file photo

KENTVILLE - The world was far from what it is today when the Annapolis Valley Apple Blossom Festival first got underway.

“Apples were the mainstay of the Valley’s economy, and in any year when the yield was in the vicinity of two and a half million barrels, the Valley was prosperous. If an early frost or August gale diminished the crop, then hard times had to be endured until the next harvest,” wrote Harold Woodman, a former editor of The Advertiser, in “A Pictoral History of the Annapolis Blossom Festival.”

The book, published in 1992, paints a picture of an industry ripe with apples aplenty: Baldwins, Spies, Greenings, Russetts, Kings – Talman Sweets, Dutch Codlings, Bishop Pippins, Yellow Transplants, Bough Sweets, Gravensteins and Red Astrachans.

“For years before we had an Apple Blossom Festival, hundreds of people looked forward to Apple Blossom Sunday as a day for touring the Valley to see and smell the beautiful blossoms,” Woodman wrote.

The first Apple Blossom Festival was held in June 2-4, 1933. Towns spanning from Annapolis Royal to Windsor were invited to nominate a princess for the inaugural Queen Annapolis contest rewarding character, poise and personality. Mary Armour of Middleton was the Annapolis Valley’s first Queen Annapolisa.

“When, in 1932, the decision was made to proceed with a festival, the idea was introduced to the public with this three-pronged objective: to publicize the Annapolis Valley apple industry in Europe and elsewhere in North America, to bring visitors into the Valley to share the beauty and learn something of the area’s historical background, and to develop local talent.”

The festival came to be when the Cornwallis Inn was a new attraction on Main Street and considered a large, modern hotel. 

“It opened on Dec. 9, 1930, offering accommodations and services equal to the best hotels on the continent,” a statement on the Town of Kentville’s website reads.

In “Small Communities, Big Dreams: 75 years of the historic Annapolis Valley Apple Blossom Festival,” editor Fred Sgambati notes that the region enjoyed a record crop production in 1933 and the bulk of the apples were sent to England.

“Although apple production in the province at the time represented about only 10 per cent of the gross value of Nova Scotia farming, the crop in Kings County constituted nearly half of the income derived from agriculture,” the book notes.

A June 7, 1933 article published in a tourist edition of the Halifax Herald describes Berwick as the “centre of the apple belt” in Nova Scotia, ideally situated between Halifax and Yarmouth along the Dominion Atlantic Railway.

“Berwick will appeal to the summer visitor who needs rest and quiet in pleasant surroundings. It has beautiful shade trees and orchards which in blossom time are a bower of beauty and later a galaxy of fruit,” the article reads.

Numerous sources point to the festival as enjoying several successful years early on, due largely in part to volunteers, business involvement and government support.

Changing world

The festival, however, was not immune to the events unfolding around the world.

“The 1939 festival took place as usual, and while there were hints that things in Europe were not quite as they should be, no one here was thinking about the possibility of another Great War,” noted Woodman in his historical account of the festival.

Concerns around supplies and the demand for human and material resources at festival time meant several events had to be changed or cancelled that year.

‘The rationing of gasoline, clothing and food staples such as meat, sugar and butter became fact. Feeding the large crowd which the festival generated would be a problem,” said Woodman, who was a teenager when the festival started.

The festival shifted focus in response to the war-time realities, and became a fundraiser for relief and support organizations such as the Red Cross.

“By the time World War II began, the festival had become a three-day event and by this time, too, it had become internationally renowned,” a statement on the festival’s website reads.
“During the war years, it was quite natural that the festival would assume a new role, that of fundraising for war-related activities. More than $4,000 was donated to the Queen’s Fund, Red Cross and other such organizations.”

The festival’s humble beginnings date back to a period in time known for the worldwide Great Depression.

An era of uncertainty, the Depression resulted in unemployment, hunger and homelessness.

“Few countries were affected as severely as Canada during what became known as the Dirty Thirties, due to Canada’s heavy dependence on raw material and farm exports, combined with a crippling Prairies drought,” an excerpt in the Canadian Encyclopedia reads.

“Widespread losses of jobs and savings ultimately transformed the country by triggering the birth of social welfare, a variety of populist political movements, and a more activist role for government in the economy.”

The Apple Blossom Festival was born out of a shared desire to create something new amid economic decline. It lives on as a time-honoured tradition that has continually withstood the tests of time for 86 years.


SUBHEAD: Fast facts from the 1933:

  • L.N. Hiltz in Kentville advertised slipover wool blouses for $1.95, wool skirts sold for $3.95 or $4.75, white or eggshell blouses sold for $1.50.
  • A department store in Kentville was selling fall coats for women for $19.50, $24.50 and $29.50
  • Livington and Scott skirts were advertised as popular with the young crowd.
  • Yerxa’s Limited had a sale offering a large tin of baked beans for 14 cents, a package of Krispbread for 22 cents, one pound of assorted Moir’s Strand chocolates 29 cents, six cakes of soap for 23 cents, two tins of peaches for 35 cents, three pounds of macaroni for 17 cents.
  • Shoppers could purchase 10 pounds of rolled oats for 19 cents, 10 pounds of granulated sugar 49 cents and a dozen bananas 18 cents in Kentville.
  • MacDonald’s on Webster Street in Kentville became an authorized washing machine dealer, offering payment plan options for gyrator models priced from $98.00 to $114.50 and vacuum cup models selling for $149.
  • Websters Jewellers in Kentville was selling “the new wrist watch with automatic winding” by MARS.
  • J.H. Baltzer in Wolfville was selling extra grade cedar shingles for $4.15 per thousand.
  • Paramount Picture Shanghai Express with Marlene Dietrich and Clive Brook was playing by popular request. The Capitol theatre was a popular entertainment destination.
  • Electric irons couple be purchased for $2.39, copper tea kettles for $1.98, and handsaws for $2.58.
  • An ad in The Advertiser said Kentville’s newest homes were equipped with the General Electric Hotpoint Range kitchen stove.
  • Maritime Telegraph & Telephone Company Limited place an ad in The Advertiser promoting the telephone as a way to save time and money.
  • Kentville Coal and Coke Co. offered wholesale throughout the Valley for heating.

SOURCE: Ads in 1933 editions of The Advertiser.

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