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Blossom Fest

Although the Canon City Music & Blossom Festival is celebrating its 77th anniversary this year, the festival was first mentioned in the Canon City Times newspaper in the 1860s, according to author Larry Thomas Ward in his  book, “Canon City, Colorado: Every Picture Tells a Story.”

Back in the 1880s, residents celebrated Fruit Day to acknowledge the bountiful harvests and to bring neighboring communities to enjoy them. By the 1890s, the Fremont County Horticultural Society  organized Fruit Day, which brought 10,000 visitors on passenger trains from Rocky Ford, Colorado Springs, La Junta and Denver to enjoy the one-day event, the archives continued.

As part of the celebration, each visitor received a paper plate filled with apples, grapes, peaches and plums. During the celebration, the fruit also was displayed in a 50-foot pavilion on Main Street and at the opera house.

“The Rocky Mountain News held that 16 tons of fruit were distributed in 1894 alone,” the archives said.

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Ducks travel the parade. 1950. Photo courtesy of Royal Gorge Regional Museum & History Center.

As part of the festivities, around 5,000 visitors took tours of the Territorial Prison and numerous others took tours of the orchards in Lincoln Park, Orchard Park, Fruitmere, Catlin, Trout, Rockafellow and Harrison in 1894. When the day ended, the tourists stayed overnight in makeshift boarding houses and campgrounds, as well as the “town’s few available hotel rooms.”

During the Fruit Day in 1895, more than 14,000 people visited the town where 130,000 pounds of fruit was given to the visitors.

“The games and hose tournaments were very interesting, and besides having a continued feast of fruits for two days, all the visitors had the pleasure of seeing one of the neatest little cities of the west,” the Royal Gorge Regional Museum & Local History Center archives said.

The next year, the festival offered tournaments with fire companies from all over the state, games, races, a balloon ascension, Chaffee light artillery exhibitions and music, as well as a grand display and “a royal feast of the best fruits in the land will be provided for all, free of cost,” the archives added.

Over the years, the festival has changed its focus and moved from the fall to the spring.

“Fruit Day continued in Canon City until about 1900 when it was then called May Day, shifting the emphasis from harvest to blossoms,” Ward’s book said. “The orchard tours continued, but were now at the beginning of the planting season. Local fruit farmers and nurserymen had effectively gotten the word out about this garden city’s produce, and were now disinclined to give away their products for nothing.”

According to legend, wealthy Canon City resident Dal DeWeese first coined the phrase during a party in 1908 when he invited a select few to “blossom fete” at his home, which was decorated with thousands of fruit blossoms and lilacs.

In 1910, DeWeese’s private party became public and renamed the Flower Carnival, which brought a Maypole dance, a flower queen and music by the Canon City High School and Territorial Prison bands.

Two years later, the Canon City Improvement League took over the blossom celebration in 1912 and became known as the Blossom Day celebration the next year. In conjunction, the league joined forces with the city in its clean up project to prepare for welcoming hundreds of visitors into the city for the festival.

During World War I, the league did not promote the event outside of the city so very few people attended the festival, but after the war ended, “the Canon City Chamber of Commerce began sponsoring the event and attendance once again began to skyrocket with 5,000 people traveling to the city each spring from 1926 to 1937,” Ward’s book said. “The Boy Scouts were information directors, baseball games at the Abbey were in vogue and an airplane ride over the orchards was the new popular attraction.”

The festival expanded again when the Jaycees began to sponsor the Blossom Festival in 1938, bringing 8,000 people to the city.

During the Fruit Day in 1895, more than 14,000 people visited the town where 130,000 pounds of fruit was given to the visitors.

To bring even more people to the event, the focus changed again when the Jaycees organized the first Band Festival Day, which brought bands from all over the state for an opportunity to win the top trophies. The festival expanded in 1940 when 10,000 people visited the festival to enjoy a carnival, a dance at the Annex, boxing at the State Armory and the parade down Main Street.

Then once again during World War II, the festival dwindled to what the Jaycees called “token” blossom festivals. After the war, the festival became a popular event to attend during the spring. Since then, the festival has been turned over to the Canon City Music and Blossom Festival Board who continues to bring thousands of people to the Canon City Music & Blossom Festival every year.

This year, the festival will feature band competitions and concerts, a parade, a carnival, a rodeo, music, food and much more to enjoy and experience during the first weekend of May in downtown Canon City.

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