Kentville family receives royal welcome from Apple Blossom Festival's twin in UK

Published on March 20, 2017

The Duke family from Kentville recently visited the community of Goosnargh in the United Kingdon to learn about the Goosnargh and Whittingham Whitsuntide Festival, which is twinned with the Apple Blossom Festival in the Dukes’ home town. Pictured here are David Butters, Laura Churchill Duke, Andy Thiele, Be Thiele, Daniel Duke, Thomas Duke and Steph Butters.


GOOSNARGH, UK - The Duke family of Kentville was given a royal greeting when they visited Goosnargh, England recently to meet the board of directors for the Goosnargh and Whittingham Whitsuntide Festival, which is twinned with the Annapolis Valley Apple Blossom Festival.

Laura Churchill Duke knew about the twinned festivals and realized the village of Goosnargh was on their route to a family vacation in Scotland, so she contacted the Goosenargh and Whittingham festival committee to arrange a visit.

“It couldn’t have been better timing,” said Churchill Duke. “When we arrived the festival committee was all at the village hall setting up for a rummage sale festival fundraiser being held the next day. We were able to meet so many people!”

Festival secretary Stephanie Butters, with only a few days of notice, prepared a grand welcome for the Duke family, presenting them with information on the area, local cheeses and the famous Goosnargh cookies.

Through Stephanie Butters and other festival members, the Dukes learned about the Goosnargh and Whittingham Whitsuntide Festival and its similarities with the Apple Blossom Festival.

Both festivals are deeply rooted in tradition, with the Apple Blossom being the youngster at 85 years of age. In contrast, according to Whitsuntide Festival chairman David Butters, written history from 1840 of the community has the festival already having been established, making it over 175 years old.

Like the Apple Blossom Festival, the Whitsuntide Festival also crowns a queen each year. While the Apple Blossom Festival Queen, now referred to as an ambassador, is a young adult who is awarded the title through merit, the Whitsuntide Queen is between the ages of 11 to 15, but is usually 12 years old.

“In January, youth who would like to put their name forward to be considered for the title, present themselves,” said Stephanie Butters. During the one-day festival in June, a name of one of the candidates is randomly drawn, and the festival queen is crowned.

Butters explained that the honour of being the Whitsuntide Ambassador is open to both males and females, but so far no young men have put their names forward. This year marks the first year the Apple Blossom Festival will open its ambassador program to males, and it is yet to be seen if any young men will compete.

Like the Apple Blossom Festival, the Whitsuntide Festival hosts a grand street parade complete with marching bands, pipes and maypole dancers. The parade proceeds through the streets of Goosnargh, ending in the town square, where a group of children, who have been practicing for the six weeks prior to the festival, do a maypole dance and the festival queen is crowned. The celebration continues at the village hall, where the 1,500-plus spectators and participants return for tea and to visit the fairgrounds set up in the adjacent field.

“It’s never a problem to get people to volunteer to help with the festival,” said Butters. “We get massive community support.”

The community works hard year-round to raise the necessary £8,000 (about $13,200 Canadian) to run the festival.

After visiting with the festival committee at the village hall, Butters and honourary president Tom Ibison took the Dukes on a tour of the village, taking in the 12th century church which houses the banner that is paraded during the Whitsuntide Festival, another traditional component of festivals like this one.

Daniel and Thomas Duke also toured the Goosnargh Oliverson's Church of England Primary School, where the music books of  KCA music teacher Donna Rhodenizer are proudly kept and used. No trip to the United Kingdom is complete without fish and chips, so the tour ended with a stop at the local chippy (fish and chip shop) whose owner, Jill Piner, is the festival’s treasurer.

The Dukes were completely overwhelmed by the hospitality of the community of Goosnargh. The welcoming gifts, the tour, and finally being invited back to Ibison’s home to eat their fish and chips all showed the warmth and openness of this remarkable community.

“I really hope we get to see them again,” said nine-year-old Thomas Duke, “and welcome them to Kentville!”

The relationship between the two festivals began in 2012 when Kentville resident, Tony Stephenson, discovered the community of Goosnargh online and noticed many similarities between the two festivals and communities. Stephenson contacted the Whitsuntide Festival about the possibility of twinning the two festivals and the rest, as they say, is history.

Stephenson has visited Goosnargh, and a delegation from the Whitsuntide Festival attended the Apple Blossom Festival and toured KCA school in 2012. In the future, festival board members hope to return to the Annapolis Valley in 2019 and create an exchange program through the Rotary.