Apple Blossom leadership competition ‘discriminatory’: Van Rooyen

Kirk Starratt
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Kings County Coun. Emma Van Rooyen. File

A Kings County councillor says while the Apple Blossom Festival leadership competition provides meaningful experiences to participants, she would like to see it become more welcoming to all young people.

Coun. Emma Van Rooyen voiced her concerns during a discussion on Municipal Economic Development Fund grants at the May 20 committee of the whole session, where council was asked for $12,000 in funding for the Apple Blossom Festival. Councillors voted to recommend approval of the funding request, but it wasn’t unanimous, with Van Rooyen and Coun. Patricia Bishop voting against it.

“The competition is designed to provide opportunities for networking and career building to those who enter,” Van Rooyen said following the meeting. “I think that it is discriminatory to deny these opportunities to the many people disqualified from entering based on the limiting criteria they must meet to be eligible to enter.”

Van Rooyen said the specific rules surrounding the leadership competition that she finds troubling include the requirement of a high school level of education or the equivalent certification; women may not participate if they have children and they can’t be pregnant at the time of the competition; women can’t currently be or ever have been married; and the competition is open to females only and requires a birth certificate to be submitted in order to compete.

Van Rooyen said this rule precludes anyone who was not born female from participating. Her concern is not restricted to the fact that young men can’t take part, but that any young person who is transgender or any other gender identity can’t participate.

“I respect how important the traditions of the competition are to some residents; however, I think it is time to meld those existing traditions with new ones that celebrate all of our young leaders inclusively,” Van Rooyen said.

During the council discussion, Warden Diana Brothers said the county’s Race Relations and Anti-Discrimination Committee has not discussed this matter and that Van Rooyen’s comments are coming from an individual councillor.


Apple Blossom Festival committee reacts

The president of the Annapolis Valley Apple Blossom Festival says rules surrounding the leadership competition might be written on paper, but they’re not etched in stone.

Gary Long said there are currently only females in the competition. However, he said the organizing committee is always open to suggestions and discussion, adding the festival board doesn’t consider it a case of discrimination.

Long said the leadership competition is community-driven. If a community representative wanted to put a male candidate forward, the festival committee would address it, but they have not yet encounter such a situation.

“We’ve never had any males express an interest in taking part in the program,” he said.

Long said there were a couple of county councillors who expressed concern over the leadership competition during last year’s budget presentation. He said he has since told councillors that if this were an issue for community members, the board would certainly look at it.

“Currently, to the best of my knowledge, this is not an area of concern of the majority of people who wish to participate in the Valley,” Long said.

Practically, however, Long said there would be financial and logistical considerations if the competition were opened to males. While a number of young women could stay in the same hotel room, a mix of young men and women wouldn’t be possible.

Some of the rules have evolved over the years, he said, pointing to a rule of candidates not being allowed to cohabitate that has been abandoned. The rule requiring a high school education was put in place because, up to this year, a scholarship was awarded to Queen Annapolisa. Because of financial constraints, a scholarship is no longer offered.

Leadership competition chairwoman Angela Pelton said she believes the key word is "tradition."

“We must be doing something right,” she says, with the festival and the leadership competition now in its 82nd year.

“You have to teach that it’s good to get ahead in the world and prove yourself as a young woman.”

The competition began in a time when young women weren’t readily accepted into several facets of society. Pelton believes it helps young women gain confidence, adding, young women are “really struggling to find themselves.”

“It’s really surprising how much they gain in a short amount of time,” Pelton said.

She said the competition has come a long way over the years. There was a time when candidates had to be the daughter of a married couple, for example.

Pelton said any group of concerned citizens are free to present other options or another concept to the Apple Blossom Festival committee. Any group could come up with their own festival or competition if they disagree that strongly with what the Apple Blossom leadership competition represents, she added.

Organizations: Apple Blossom, Municipal Economic Development Fund, Racial Relations and Anti-Discrimination Committee

Geographic location: Kings, Annapolis Valley

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Recent comments

  • tessa
    August 11, 2014 - 08:41

    This has got to be a joke. Why can young, single women with no children who are trying to better themselves and their futures not have this *one* thing. If taking part in the ABFestival is THAT important to you, why not wait to get married or have children! If scholarships and bursaries can afford to be choosy about their recipients, why cant ABF. Princesses are supposed to be ambassadors for their communities. If you only knew the extent of events and responsibilities, you wouldn't wish them on a young, single mother. For God's sake, let us just have this.

  • Melinda Norris
    May 30, 2014 - 11:06

    So glad she is voicing this, lots of us here in the valley have been frustrated by this aspect of the festival for years. Bringing it into the 21st century is the *best* way to ensure its survival and honour what our community is all about. Thanks so much for your bravery, Emma!

  • Fred Williams
    May 30, 2014 - 10:10

    No males expressed an interest, eh. Perhaps because it was defined as a contest for women, and not all women at that. Mind you men would be unlikely to be pregnant, so they wouldn't have to worry about that. Ms Van Rooyen is right. It should be opened up to all youth. We won't go into age restrictions too closely.(:-)) The other thing about it is this word "leadership." It can mean economic bullying or psychological manipulation, both "dark arts" in my opinion. What we need is "sharingship" not "leadership" anyway. We need to respect each others opinions and ideas, not measure success by how well we impose our own ideas on others.

    • ABF Participant
      June 07, 2014 - 23:37

      FUN FACT: There has been questions brought to the board by several towns about a potential male candidate. All attempts by towns to open it to males has been shot down by the almighty Apple Blossom committee. Why do you think that Middleton and Bridgetown don't participate and do the Ambassadorship program instead? It's because their program supports all genders to be leaders, not just females. This "leadership competition" has turned into a parade of white dresses and gloves. Leadership isn't white dresses, crowns and gloves, it's volunteering for your community and promoting them to the best of your abilities. Why don't these girls roll up the sleeves on their suits and start being true leaders instead of just standing there and looking pretty.

  • Ray Savage
    May 28, 2014 - 14:29

    82nd Apple Blossom Festival & yet again some pageant rhetoric... This is nothing new, I had to face similar controversy as president in my time, and others before me and more in the future I'm sure... This is not new & typically brought up by those that have little awareness of ABF and what it takes to pull this festival off each and every year, especially the pageant.... Something else that is not new.... what festival does for the "Leadership Candidates". I had never been a pageant 'fellow' & wondered what the fuss was about. My 1st year on the BOD of ABF, I took the time and travelled with the group of ladies for the week... I experienced first hand the unbelievable transformation of a number of elder girls truly becoming young ladies in a short period of time. And to watch the further transformation over the ensuing year really touched me deep in my soul... So much so, I spent an another 8 years or so dedicated to ABF... Mostly because I was so touched by the growth of these young people and truly enjoyed being a part of helping our youth expand their horizons. Many of these young ladies will tell you themselves that ABF was one of the key benefits to them in their personal development. Many have gone on to fantastic careers and give a great deal to their community.... For those naysayers, I ask that if you are truly interested in making the leadership competition better and have thoughts to offer, please take the time to talk to those that have walked in those shoes, or better yet, get involved and experience it for yourself... It truly is amazing, and a tremendous feat to pull this together each and every year, to give the opportunity it truly represents to our young representatives. Walk a mile in those shoes, see the costs and logistical challenges, than make you suggestions and grab the rope and give it a pull... Change is and can be a good thing, but unfortunately, change does not happen with a flick of the switch, especially in a purely volunteer entity that works it's guts out for our community...

  • Fed up Citizen
    May 28, 2014 - 13:48

    I agree with making the leadership competition inclusive, however, I disagree with Van Rooyen's approach to enacting social change (at least that is what I surmise she is trying to attempt here). Van Rooyen is clearly demonstrating the the classic makings of teen angst by throwing a temper tantrum in the media instead of discussing issues of concern through professional channels. When a child stomps their feet, yells but but but....., and continues to negatively go on and on about their point, the best thing to do is walk away and wait for them to calm down to discuss their issue rationally. This is what we are dealing with when Van Rooyen is acting the way she is in the media. The first step Van Rooyen should have taken was to contact the festival coordinators months before, instead of days before the festival was to occur. Actually, Van Rooyen proudly boost she has lived in the valley all her life (except for schooling in Halifax) and this is the first time she is bringing this issue up? How long has she been a councillor for? Did it not bother her last year? Three days before the festival she has an epiphany that she would champion the cause of inclusion for the leadership competition? This is a bit shocking in my opinion, but I digress. Back to being professional, Van Rooyen's initial contact should have been face to face, private letter, or a telephone call to discuss her concerns with the leadership competition. To my knowledge that obviously never occurred. Through this professional first step, Van Rooyen would have in a diplomatic and 'professional' manner voiced her concerns and proactively went about making progressive change to the festival in a professional adult manner. Instead, like a teenager revolting against their parents, she went for the radical 'vive la revolution' approach which does not work for all people and is now pouting at receiving any negative responses to 'her opinions.' From personally knowing Van Rooyen for years, this doesn't surprise me much. Van Rooyen has difficulty seeing beyond a leftist Marxist approach to life and has her head so far up Karl Marx's behind that she can not fathom how anyone would have a differing viewpoint to her own. I have seen her argue tooth and nail on a point without ever listening or considering any other position than the one she is arguing, and as a result excluding and making others feel their opinions are worthless and in the process disrespecting others for having a different opinion. Van Rooyen, it's time to wake up and see that you are in a professional position and you must act professional and cooperate with people who have differing views. The coordinators seem like reasonable people, who if approached months in advance would have amended the rules. For Pete's sake the Pope is working towards diplomacy in the Middle East, and Van Rooyen can not muster the courage to join the coordinators over "free trade coffee" and speak with them about changing the rules to a leadership competition in the Annapolis Valley? Give me a break! People are starving, unemployed, homeless, dying because of inadequate health care and this is what Van Rooyen deems as something to go to the media about? That's what I take offence to. This matter could have been dealt with professionally before it had to be blown out of proportion. It is my wish that Van Rooyen will learn humility, cooperation, professionalism and most importantly to listen and understand different approaches and viewpoint to life in order to bring people together and create change.

  • Aaron Murnaghan - Gaspereau
    May 28, 2014 - 11:49

    Emma has again proved that she is among the voices of the young, innovative and inclusive Valley residents who are reshaping the region into a more equitable, more successful and more diverse place to live and visit. "Traditions" should not continue arbitrarily without some introspection. How the ABF board and County Council deal with this issue will go a long way to determining the future success of the festival and the desirability of the Valley as a place for young, innovative and inclusive people to live. The sooner we get rid of these exclusive and outdated "traditions" the better, as it will signal to visitors and would-be residents alike that the Valley is inclusive and forward thinking, rather than backward and conservative - in the worst possible ways. I fully support Emma's point of view, and her timing is perfect to ensure that this issue is dealt with. A positive change now by the ABF board in response to Emma's concern would do alot to promote the festival and the Valley.

  • Valley Educator
    May 27, 2014 - 20:51

    You mean because she wants to discuss something current? In my humble opinion, it would be terrible timing to bring this up in October when it would not get the attention it deserves. I continue to be frustrated by the closed-minded opinions of residents here. It is exceptionally narrow-minded to think that a conversation about modifying the rules on an aspect of the festival might actually drive people away. Do you know how big the LGBTQ community is in Halifax? I would argue that having a transgender or lesbian 'Princess' would actually drive up tourism for some of these old, stale events. No, what comes out when I see people concerned about Couns. Van Rooyen's opinion is a thinly veiled lack of openness to the spectrum of sexuality, to the changing of society and to change itself. The current set of requirements for applicants is embarrassing by standards most people held fifty years ago. Further, when I read that people are upset that she went to the media, knowing that Couns. Van Rooyen is intelligent, articulate and educated, I suspect that for years this has been dismissed and avoided by the ABF committee. Sometimes dirty laundry needs to be aired so those responsible can feel some public pressure- if we want to see anything done about it.

  • concerned Kentvillian
    May 27, 2014 - 20:35

    A perfect time to publicize the Apple Blossom Festival and a genius promotional move. We were already on ATV steve murphy and will probably make the national not to mention all the papers. Just think of all the viewers this will take in thanks to our Emma . You go Girl !

  • RA
    May 27, 2014 - 18:55

    Get with the times old folgies. A Princess with a beard is alright by me. People have the right to be what they want to be. TO BE OR NOT TO BE, THAT IS THE QUESTION?

  • Linda
    May 27, 2014 - 18:36

    I completely support Emma's point of view, and I don't see any problem with the "timing". No one is going to skip Apple Blossom because there is a discussion about possibilities of change. Relax, folks, and keep an open mind. :)

  • Nila
    May 27, 2014 - 17:10

    Ridiculous timing and topic...

  • Concerned
    May 27, 2014 - 12:32

    What terrible timing to bring something like this up!!! Our valley is trying to bring people to our festival, not scare them away with controversy. This topic should have been brought up months ago, or left to be discussed after the festival.

    • Valley Resident - District 2 Kings County
      May 27, 2014 - 12:51

      Agreed!!!! Ridiculous timing.

    • Ben Caron
      May 27, 2014 - 13:08

      It was brought up months ago... it was actually brought up a full year ago. Just because the media is only picking up the story now is not the responsibility of the councillors. If you have issues with CTV, CBC and The Advertisers timing you might want to bring it up with them

    • Valley Resident - District 2 Kings County
      May 27, 2014 - 14:01

      Ben Caron, direct quote from the article: "Coun. Emma Van Rooyen voiced her concerns during a discussion on Municipal Economic Development Fund grants at the May 20 committee of the whole session". AND, it may have been brought up, but never to the ABF Board. Van Rooyen/County Council could have done that any time, but hasn't. Happy to talk to media before even communicating in ANY WAY with ABF.

    • Valley Resident - District 2 Kings County
      May 27, 2014 - 14:02

      Ben Caron, direct quote from the article: "Coun. Emma Van Rooyen voiced her concerns during a discussion on Municipal Economic Development Fund grants at the May 20 committee of the whole session". AND, it may have been brought up, but never to the ABF Board. Van Rooyen/County Council could have done that any time, but hasn't. Happy to talk to media before even communicating in ANY WAY with ABF.

  • Valley Resident
    May 27, 2014 - 12:21

    Lets not forget people (Councillor Van Rooyen and Councillor Bishop) that the whole point of the Annapolis Valley Apple Blossom Festival is to promote the Valley's Apple industry and promote the Valley. I agree with some of the comments below, notably the comments that Councillor Van Rooyen has horrible timing and that instead of going to the media to voice her opinion she should have simply wrote a letter to the Apple Blossom Festival Board of Directors. I also agree that perhaps due to her age or inexperience Councillor Van Rooyen has missed the mark and does not understand where this tradition of the now Leadership Competition came from and what it was meant to achieve. Many of the past Queen's and Princesses have gone on to be doctors, lawyers and very successful business women. Councillor Van Rooyen should not take away from achievements of the many years of tradition. The festival could use some improvements in a lot of the areas and not just the area of the leadership competition. It is important for the festival to grow with society so that the festival remains successful and that people keep wanting to come to the valley to celebrate it. Councillor Van Rooyen, I've been a supporter of you until now, you majorly missed the mark on this one!

    • Jasmine
      May 27, 2014 - 15:05

      This isn't the first time this issue has been brought up. Some Kings County councilors even brought up concerns about this during budget discussions this year with the ABF President. So I don't know why some people are acting as though they've been blindsided by this position. I don't think Councillor Van Rooyen wants to see the program end, I think she just supports it being more inclusive to everyone. Right now the rules say that if a young woman has a child out of wedlock then she can't be considered a leader in her community and that's just wrong. This event needs to be open to everyone who meets the requirements of what being a leader is (volunteerism, community activity, etc) as it's a leadership competition and NOT a pageant, in the ABF's own words.

  • Former Princess
    May 27, 2014 - 12:08

    I loved being a princess and truly value the leadership experience the festival offers, as well as the economic and tourism benefits the festival offers our community. And I absolutely agree with Councillor Van Rooyen that this excellent opportunity needs to be accessible to all women of our community without these antiquated rules. Leadership is about inclusion and being non judgmental and offering a voice to those less represented. If we want to call this a leadership competition than it needs to embody those principles. As for timing, I think to get the maximum community engagement in this issue now is absolutely the time to raise it: while people are thinking about the festival. I think Councillor Van Rooyen did a respectful job of acknowledging that this festival is important to our community. She isn't suggesting throwing it out or that it is bad, nor is she disrespecting the many community members who work very hard to make it happen- just that it needs to be brought up to date and made more inclusive. If you think this creates a black cloud over the festival, than maybe that means these issues of inclusion should have been dealt with a long time ago.

    • RA
      May 27, 2014 - 19:31

      Well said young Lady. When times are dry and crops are dying, a dark cloud can be a saving grace even during a parade. All inclusive, that is the Canadian way.

  • Valley Resident - District 2 Kings County
    May 27, 2014 - 11:30

    Councillor Van Rooyan should have been much more mindful of her timing for protesting this issue. I think her actions of speaking out to media days before the festival opens, show her inability to make smart decisions, and demonstrates her lack of respect for the people who have worked so hard to make this festival happen for over 80 years. Maybe her points are valid, that's something to be discussed, but not now 3 days before the festival starts. It seems Councilor Van Rooyen has no sense of how to diplomatically and appropriately address issues. (A common theme with her, Raven, and Bishop it seems). She simply wants her media attention, and while she has achieved that, she's also caused the Festival negative attention. Now, in stead of the Festival starting up and doing what it should do, which is make people feel good about their communities, there's this black cloud hanging over it, it's volunteers, the many people who work year round to make this HUGE festival happen, and especially the participants of the leadership program, who have certainly done nothing wrong. Well done Van Rooyen. You showed no sense of understanding what might be an appropriate process for action here. And I will not be voting for you again. And maybe, if everyone commenting here on this MEDIA STORY had expressed these concerns directly to the people that make the decisions, (ABF Board) there may have been a reason for change long before now. But my guess is you haven't, and won't. I think what's also telling here is that the ABF says they haven't received formal requests from communities for change. If change was really wanted, someone or many someones would have approached the festival. It seems they haven't. Year after year the media just gets this issue all riled up again and brings negative attention to a festival that benefits our communities in major ways, and has many more pieces than the leadership competition. Happy Appy everyone. Sheesh.

    • Ben Caron
      May 27, 2014 - 12:12

      This issue was brought up almost a year ago, and has been brought up before in the past by other councillors. Van Rooyan isn't trying to get media attention, she identifying a significant issue with the festival, which excludes large portions of the community. If the festival receives negative attention, it's because the policy is discriminatory. If the festival changed the policy, there wouldn't be any negative attention. As an aside, you clearly have a very limited understanding of how county council works, as Van Rooyan only protested the issue as it was brought to council. She did not go out of her way to attack this group, the issue was brought up (as it has in the past) when the festival was brought before council for funding, asking for $10,000, each year for the next three years. (All of this is very easily found on the Kings County Council website). If the tax payers are funding a festival, do you not think that they should have equal opportunity to participate in it? Finally, there is a really easy way for the Festival to fix the negative media, all they have to do is agree that next year they will eliminate an extremely discriminatory and exclusive policy.

  • RH
    May 27, 2014 - 10:20

    Instead of just changing the Queen Annapolisa tradition, it should be eliminated altogether. It was born of an antiquated mindset that unfortunately still persists in the Valley. It is exclusive, and the requirements for women to participate just encourage gender stereotypes. A replacement, perhaps something like a Youth Town Ambassador, could serve the same purpose (in terms of community outreach, etc.) while being inclusive of all genders and all circumstances (like not excluding women with children/married or divorced...). It's embarrassing and insulting to see this tradition continue.

  • AD
    May 26, 2014 - 23:13

    Well said C. Van Rooyen! Being inclusive, and eliminating the inherent bias of the 'rules' governing the leadership competition will go a long way toward demonstrating true leadership! Let youth know that they are welcome - not that they have to fight a committee to try to be allowed to particpate.

  • Barry Verge
    May 26, 2014 - 22:06

    this women is "Out to Lunch" and I"m a Gay Man - EMMA: I wish to apply- - i'm a Gay Man - -do i have to shave my legs as part of the requirement - use Duct Tape - Wear a dress - now you tell if that makes me PRINCESS - Mother of God Women - you are out to LUNCH - eating ALONE - get a better life - and NOT IN THE VALLEY

  • Lisa
    May 26, 2014 - 21:58

    Just because this is the way something has always been done, does not mean it is the most just or equitable way to do it.

  • D.
    May 26, 2014 - 19:53

    On one of the many points discussed - Just because a young women has had a child before marriage/finishing school does not mean that she does not have potential to be a leader in her community, or go on to get a post secondary education. I attended university with many young women who had children not only out of wedlock (shock!) but before they finished their education. They were some of the most inspiring women and leaders I've met. Sad that we are still making women feel shame for not following the "traditional" steps of life - education, marriage, then family.

    • Bob
      May 26, 2014 - 20:33

      Well said.

  • EqualityforAll
    May 26, 2014 - 19:27

    @Kentvillian - Does having a child before finishing high school make you any less of a potential leader or give you less rights? Having a child young/out of wedlock/before finishing school does not mean you are incapable of finishing your education, nor mean that you are prohibited from becoming a leader in your community. Preventing women who fall under this category only proves that we still have very biased views on women and their place in society.

  • Kentvillian
    May 26, 2014 - 18:27

    So you want a towns royal leadership to be a pregnant teenager who hasn't finished high school? I get the gender and sexuality part but high school completion and leadership qualities are a definite must!

    • EqualityforAll
      May 26, 2014 - 19:32

      @Kentvillian - Does having a child before finishing high school make you any less of a potential leader or give you less rights? Having a child young/out of wedlock/before finishing school does not mean you are incapable of finishing your education, nor mean that you are prohibited from becoming a leader in your community. Preventing women who fall under this category only proves that we still have very biased views on women and their place in society.

    • Mark Levack
      May 26, 2014 - 23:52

      Hey Kentvillian, The Puritans called. They want their arbitrary 17th century morality back.