The Annapolis Valley Apple Blossom Festival board has set off a storm of protest after announcing that it is moving the grand street parade to New Minas from Kentville.
The board said in a news release Thursday that the festival was started to publicize the apple industry and the Annapolis Valley, and it believes that means it has always been intended to showcase the entire Valley.
“As the festival board of directors, it is our duty to uphold the integrity of the festival and to proceed with an event that captures its founding missions,” the release said. “Residents and communities from across the Valley have spoken and we have listened. In order to get back to the traditional roots of the festival, we will begin by taking small steps this year to transition events to once again be held across the entire region.”
In the three hours after the announcement, the festival's Facebook page had more than 300 posts, the vast majority of which were angry or critical of the move.
People cited concerns such as the lack of shaded areas in New Minas, as well as the fact there are no lawns, street-side cafes or pubs to watch from. Others worried about traffic congestion as well as the logistics of getting people in and out of New Minas.
Some spoke of the small-town feel and enjoyable atmosphere of having the parade run through Kentville, and several people said they were breaking their plans to fly home for the festival because of the move.
And others wondered which residents and communities had convinced the committee that the change was necessary.
The parade has been held in other communities before, but former committee members and business community members contacted said those events didn't garner the same crowds as the parade in Kentville and had logistical issues.
Kentville Mayor Sandra Snow said she was blindsided by the announcement, having been told about the move just before the media release was issued.
“Gut-punched. Perplexed. Concerned,” she said when asked to describe what she was feeling.
The board hadn't come to the town with any concerns or talk of moving the parade, the mayor said.
“They've been in to see me twice. The first time was looking for our support, which I said the town was willing to provide," she said. “The second time, three of them came in to see me and find out what was going on. At the same time, we were asking some pretty hard questions with regards to the change in the princesses and we wanted a copy of the new guidelines and rules and weren't getting very far ahead.”
The committee announced last month that it was relaxing the rules around the selection of community representatives for the title of Queen Annapolisa so that men or women could apply to be the representative of the festival.
But, Snow said, there was no talk of moving the parade.
The mayor said she's also concerned because the fireworks and children's parade, which also have taken place in the town, are not listed on the festival website as taking place in Kentville.
She said the town wasn't making any demands of the committee, and was still providing $3,000 to the committee through its booster club, as well as $15,000 in policing and public works services.
The move will negatively hit the town's pubs, eating establishments and other businesses that see an increase in traffic during the parade, Snow said.
Dave Reid, the chairman of the Kentville Development Corporation's merchants group committee, said the move was disappointing.
“I'm still digesting it,” he said.
Reid said the parade has been held in the town for at least the past 40 years, and while he remembers it being held elsewhere, “the ability to hold the parade and the logistics behind it are a little bit too much for some smaller communities. New Minas might be able to handle it, but there's a question of no public parking. If they fill Walmart's parking lot, are they going to like that?"
The festival started in Kentville before becoming a Valley-wide event and holding it in the community has become a tradition, he said.
“If there's a valid reason to change something, then I'm all for it," Reid said. "But if it's just change for the sake of change, I'm not that certain that it's a great idea.”
He wished the parade success, but like Snow, he feels the move will be a blow for some Kentville businesses. While his jewelry store gained exposure but no increased sales on parade day, Reid said the Saturday of the festival was like Christmas for places like pubs and cafes.
Dave Chaulk, the New Minas village commission chairman, said the festival's board of directors approached the village in the past month.
“The Apple Blossom committee ... said that they were looking at moving (the parade) out of Kentville and asked if we would take it over,” he said. “We met as a commission and decided that we would help them out.”
He said the village didn't ask the board to move the parade to New Minas.
“It was never like that," Chaulk said. "They totally approached us. We weren't trying to take anything away from Kentville. We were just trying to help out the Apple Blossom committee.”
He doesn't think traffic will be an issue, and said there are plenty of parking lots available.
“I don't know, logistically, if it will be better or worse, but hopefully it will be better," Chaulk said.
It will be up to the festival committee to contact the RCMP, which provides policing service in the village, to arrange service before, during and after the event, he said.
“All we're doing is supplying a venue and public works for cleanup afterward,” Chaulk said. “We've made it clear to them that we want proper policing and proper security, and if anywhere along this process it should become evident to us that that's not going to happen, then we'll have to re-evaluate.”
Festival vice-president Alxys Chamberlain wasn't available for a phone interview but she did respond to questions by email Thursday night.
She said the board appreciates there are concerns about the change but that the logistics for a New Minas parade route have been worked out.
“As with any change, we were aware that some people would not be in favour of this change. We will be addressing people’s concerns and can assure everyone that this was a decision that was well-thought out in order to ensure that this week-long event remained as the Annapolis Valley Apple Blossom Festival,” she said.
“We have a duty as a board of directors to uphold our mandate and mission, which requires us to showcase and promote the entire Annapolis Valley. The board of directors stands by this decision and looks forward to celebrating the 85th year of the Annapolis Valley Apple Blossom Festival.”
She said when saying that residents and communities had spoken, the committee meant that over several years, “we have received overwhelming feedback from various communities and residents across the Annapolis Valley.”
Chamberlain said that the coronation will remain at Acadia University but locations for other events such as the children's parade and fireworks will be announced by the end of the month.
In a letter sent Thursday to communities that take part in the festival, the committee said it will be hosting a meeting in the next year to receive feedback, concerns or proposals.
"This has been a suggestion from various communities and we feel that it is time that this happens once again," the letter said. "For the 2018 festival, communities will also be able to ‘bid’ on hosting specified events within their respective community.”
The letter said details of the process will be provided in full at a later date.