KENTVILLE, NS - If you want your favourite event to stay at Apple Blossom, then you’d better make sure you - and others - continue going to it.
A lot has changed since the Apple Blossom Festival first kicked off 86 years ago, with the latest big-ticket event change being the removal of the festival favourite Duck Race along the Gaspereau River.
Festival board president Alxys Chamberlain said such changes are often necessary for the festival, which adds and removes events each year based on criteria that considers how many people attend, and whether it’s sustainable financially. This year will see the number of events rise from 15 to 44 and will experience a festival more reminiscent of past ones, according to Chamberlain.
“It’s amazing to see the wealth of events that used to happen at the festival, and we’re excited to start getting back to the roots of the festival and the things that were once so important to people,” she said.
‘A different time’: Butt
Dorothy Butt, whose husband George Butt was involved with the festival for three decades and also served as its president, recalls a different era of the blossom festival ruled by dances, dinners and pageantry.
Her daughter, Linda (Butt) Deveau, was Princess Kentville in 1981, and her time as princess is a fond memory for Butt, who also looks back fondly on dances held at the Greenwood and Cornwallis military bases, where officers dressed in uniform accompanied women wearing evening gowns.
She hasn’t participated in the festival much since the passing of her husband in 2011 but looks back on her memories with fondness.
“We’d pack our evening gowns in the car and drive down for the dance,” said Butt, who created a scrapbook each year of the festival full of newspaper clippings, photos and other mementoes.
“It was wonderful. That was a different time, and it’s nothing like that anymore, but it’s still wonderful.”
Participation numbers key
Chamberlain said some events – even ones like the Duck Race, or Apple Blossom Idol – have been cut because they simply become unsustainable.
Attendance started out strong for the Idol competition in the early 2000s as American and Canadian Idol dominated TV screens across North America. The event also got younger people involved with the festival, but after a few years attendance dropped to levels so low there was no longer a competition to be had, said Chamberlain.
“Participation is a big thing. When people come to events, they will thrive, but if they don’t, maybe it’s time to take a step back and reevaluate it,” she said.
Other past events - like the festival’s strongman competition, sporting events and the concert in the park - have also remained cancelled in recent years.
Chamberlain confirmed the Duck Race was cancelled this year after Nova Scotia Power pulled out of supporting the event following last year’s fish kill in the Gaspereau River.
“We’re really going to miss that event this year,” she said.
Next five years could bring more back
Chamberlain says since the board of directors has made the effort to get back to the festival’s roots while continuing to try new events, they’ve felt renewed inspiration and are forging new partnerships with community stakeholders.
She’s predicting a resurgence of historical events – sports, strongman, concerts and others – will happen over the next five years.
These have shaped not only what festival is now, but also community as a whole. She says the committee wants to hear from people about what events they would like to see included in upcoming festivals.
“When you’ve got huge growth like we’ve had this year, we’re bringing a lot back. We’re in a good place right now with financials and are building relationships. With that support, we’ll see a lot of these events return,” she said.