After World War II, local retailer Harry Poppelwell (1899-1988) and others thought Hastings was coasting on its reputation built earlier in the 20th century from the boosterism (promotional) organisation, the Hastings Progress League, which organised the grand carnivals that stopped when the war started.

Also, the community spirit experienced with the Fun Sessions at the Hastings Municipal Theatre during WWII had gone somewhat flat.

Harry Poppelwell stated something should be done about the "glorious inactivity" in Hastings and saw his friend, Hastings Daily Telegraph reporter Ed Culver, to plan the formation of a promotional organisation to create community activities in Hastings.

Mayor R D Brown gave his blessing to the idea to "bring about a better and brighter Hastings".


At a public meeting in 1950, presided over by Harry Poppelwell, Hastings lawyer Peter Gifford (1922-2003) proposed an organisation be set up and called Greater Hastings Inc - and the meeting agreed.

Business people got behind Greater Hastings with donations, and 100 people gave £5 each (2017: $350).

The Hastings Borough Council provided half of a salary for a secretary-organiser, as long as it could use the person's services.

An ex-air force man who had trained in Canada during the war mentioned he had seen a blossom festival there to celebrate spring and blossoms, representing the start of what would hopefully be a prosperous fruit season ahead.

Greater Hastings liked this idea, as did the Fruitgrowers and Retailers Association, so they organised a Blossom Festival to mark the beginning of the fruit season, where shop fronts were decorated with crepe-paper blossoms, and 41 decorated floats took part in a procession at the end of the week.

The fruitgrowers won the cup that year for best float.

The Blossom Festival's success took the organisers by surprise, and would soon attract 40,000 to 50,000 people, with excursion trains coming from Gisborne, Wellington, Palmerston North and the Wairarapa.

To keep the festival novel, new ideas were incorporated, such as tours and exhibitions, a celebration for Hastings City status in 1956 and a Queen Carnival contest (Blossom Queen) was added in 1957.

The event recovered from the infamous festival riot in September 1960, when rain cancelled the parade, and with no alternative entertainment, brawls resulted later from a hotel bar.

Many thought it would be the end of the festival, but it continued until the last one was held in 1972, when after 22 years many retailers and other organisations began to tire of the substantial effort required in making floats (and possibly the effect of television as floats took months to build after hours) and it all began to look a little worn.

The Hastings Blossom Festival was revived in the 1990s, however, and continues with today's parade.

• Michael Fowler ( is a chartered accountant, speaker and writer of history

• Michael will be signing copies of his new book Hawke's Bay Opera House: The first 100 years 1915 to 2015 at the Hastings I-site today at 10am to 11.30am. The book costs $30 and all proceeds go towards the renovations of the Hawke's Bay Opera House.