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ED COLEMAN: Ray Riley is pleading Hantsport's case as the Apple Blossom Festival pioneer

Capt. Ray C. Riley is on a crusade to have Hantsport recognized for pioneering the apple blossom festival.
Capt. Ray C. Riley is on a crusade to have Hantsport recognized for pioneering the Apple Blossom Festival. - Ed Coleman
HANTSPORT, N.S. —

Capt. Ray C. Riley of Hantsport is on a crusade.

For decades, Riley has been striving to have Hantsport recognized as the original home of the Apple Blossom Festival — and he may have a point. 

“The bottom line is that when it comes to the festival, Hantsport was first in holding an apple blossom celebration in the Valley,” Riley said when I talked with him recently. “Kentville was a latecomer and it only took over the festival after it became too big for Hantsport.”

To substantiate this claim, Riley has researched and written a history of Hantsport’s festival celebrations, which began in 1927. The history follows below, but first we should note that no one questions Riley’s statement about Hantsport holding several celebrations with apple blossom themes at least six years before Kentville. Hantsport had its apple blossom queens and its apple blossom balls in the 1920s, just as Kentville did when it started what became a Valley-wide festival in 1933.

Hantsport as the founding town of the festival has never been recognized, at least not officially or otherwise (although how you do this “officially” is difficult to say). Hantsport’s apple blossom celebration is noted in Harold Woodman’s pictorial history, published in 1992. At least six of my columns mention the Hantsport connection as well. However, Google the apple blossom festival and you’ll find that Kentville is given full credit for starting the apple blossom festival, and there’s no mention of Hantsport.   

Despite little or no support anywhere (except in this column) to acknowledge Hantsport’s festival contributions, Riley persists with his crusade. Here’s what his research has turned up regarding Hantsport’s claim for festival recognition:

“When and where did the Valley Apple Blossom Festival have its start? It wasn’t Kentville, as they claim.

“For our Valley people’s information, the festival started in 1927 in the Town of Hantsport, in one of the three apple warehouses owned by Mr. Laurie Sanford. Mr. Sanford got the idea to hold an apple blossom dance in the Station Street warehouse. He had men cut down an apple tree (that was) in full bloom, trim the limbs off carefully, then drill the tree and reassemble the branches.

“Sanford then arranged for four young girls to compete for queen of the festival. At the dance, each man paid 25 cents to vote for their favourite princess. Only men could vote at this time.

“The young ladies were Kay Anslow, of Windsor, Katherine Yeaton, Evelyn Tatterie and Jean Shankle, of Hantsport. Upon voting, Kay Anslow won for the first queen, which started a great new adventure.

“This festival grew very fast in popularity each year. In 1928, Katherine Yeaton won the contest. Then in 1929, the year of the great depression, the event was cancelled; it began again in 1930 and Jean Tatterie won. The festival was held again in 1931 and 1932. By this time, it had become so large that the town could no longer contain it all.

"In 1933, Hantsport school principal B. C. Silver was appointed supervisor of a Valley school and moved to Kentville. Silver took along with him the idea of an apple blossom festival, which the Town of Kentville gladly accepted. Kentville had plenty of room, which allowed the festival to quickly grow into what is now a very large part of Valley festivities.

“This same historic information was mentioned before a large crowd in the Kentville ball park by a former Hantsport mayor, B. T. Smith — during the 1946 blossom festival of which Smith was chairman.”

(Smith’s remarks regarding Hantsport were reported later in The Advertiser).

In conclusion, Riley said his parents had attended all of Hantport’s blossom celebrations and had passed on their recollections to him. 

In an article published in the Hants Journal in 2003, Hantsport writer Annie Bird interviewed Evelyn Tatterie Armstrong. As noted by Riley, Tatterie (then single) participated in Hantport’s 1927 blossom celebration organized by Laurie Sanford. Tatterie Armstrong was 92 when she was interviewed but she still fondly remembered those long-ago festivals, especially the blossom dances. She confirmed most of what Riley wrote in his article.

An interesting point that came out in Bird’s interview is Kentville’s connection with the Hantsport blossom festivities. When Hantsport’s celebration expanded to the point that it got too big for the town to handle, Bird reported: “Laurie Sanford and other orchardists throughout the Annapolis Valley got together and talked it over. It was decided to hold the Queen’s Ball in the Cornwallis Inn.”   

The move to Kentville and the Cornwallis Inn took place in 1933.

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