Nova Scotia

Apple Blossom Festival changes rules for Queen and Princess

Organizers say the rules around who can compete for the titles of Queen and Princess at the Apple Blossom Festival have been altered to become more inclusive, but some feel they still don't go far enough.

Festival trying to reach a balance between maintaining some traditions and moving forward

The festival has been around for over 80 years and so have the rules governing what is now called a leadership competition. (www.appleblossom.com)

Times are changing and the Annapolis Valley Apple Blossom Festival is changing, too. The regent can be pregnant, but she can't already have kids.

Organizers say the rules around who can compete for the titles of Queen and Princess have been altered to become more inclusive, but some feel they still don't go far enough.

The festival has been around for more than 80 years and so have the rules governing what is now called a leadership competition — the choosing of Queen Annapolisa and her princesses.

"When it was first established, things were set for the standard of the day for the 1930s, the 1940s," said Gary Long, the festival president, who is quick to correct anyone who calls the competition a beauty pageant.

"We're in the 21st century."

He said now, the festival is trying to reach a balance between maintaining some traditions and moving forward. 

"None of what we did not change and none of what we did change was done lightly," said Long, who has consulted extensively with local communities. 

Princess Cornwallis from 1958. (www.appleblossom.com)

The changes now allow participants to live common law and to become pregnant during the year they represent their community. Married women and young women with children are still not permitted to take part. 

Long said the festival requires competitors to be available 24 hours a day for five days. Organizers decided it's not fair to ask young mothers to make that commitment.

"We looked at it and we really felt, what kind of a load are we putting on the girls?" Long asked.

"If all of a sudden a young woman who has a small child gets a call from her support circle saying your child is sick, then she has to forgo her responsibilities with Apple Blossom Festival and go to her child, which we fully expect, and we just don't think that's fair. It's too much to ask from all of us, the Apple Blossom people and the candidates."

'We need to be able to not be paternalistic'

Kings County Coun. Emma Van Rooyen disagrees, saying young mothers are capable of determining what they can and can't do. 

"I think we have to be very careful to respect the ability of women to know their own capacity," she said. "We need to be able to not be paternalistic and think that we know better based on what we feel the values are and I think that rule makes a value judgement for women with children.

"It's saying they don't have the capacity to make the decision on their own and I feel like that's a really unfair thing."

She also questions the rule that competitors must have completed high school. 

"Saying that young women who haven't finished secondary education can't participate is really making a value judgment about what they have to contribute to the community and what their skills could be as a leader," Van Rooyen said.

"This is an opportunity for young women to grow out of the boundaries where they may feel contained at this time, so I just think that's an unnecessary thing."

Long said the festival wants to put the message out that "having a good education is necessary to life."

As for men, they are not allowed to take part. The rules currently require participants to be female or transgender, but Long says if a community puts forward a male competitor, the festival board will consider it.

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