Stratford is a Southwestern Ontario town that is situated on the banks of the Avon river. Both the city and the river were named after England’s Stratford-upon-Avon of Shakespearean fame. According to the 2006 census, the town’s population is just over 30 000.
Originally a railway junction, Stratford became a furniture manufacturing centre for Ontario. In 1933 there was a furniture strike that marked the last time the Canadian army was deployed to break up a strike.
Stratford has a rich history, but it is the attractions found there today that make it a popular tourist destination. Here are just a few:
1. Stratford Shakespeare Festival: The addition of this attraction was really a no brainer. The annual Shakespeare festival is synonymous with the city. This festival which runs from April to November is incredibly popular. Theatre-goers, actors and playwrights flock to the city to take part. Many of the best Canadian and American actors have graced the stage at Stratford. It was one of the first, and still one of the most popular arts festivals in all of Canada.
Although the festival’s major mandate is to present the works of Shakespeare, in actuality Shakespeare only makes up a about a quarter of the theatrical offerings each year. The rest of the shows run the gamut from greek tragedies to contemporary comedies.
The arrival of the festival in 1953 was indeed timely. Having once been a popular railway junction, Stratford had fallen onto tough times when the railway yards were removed. The arrival and success of the festival transformed Stratford into Canada’s ultimate arts getaway.
2. Stratford Summer Music Festival: What is a perfect pairing with Shakespearean theatre? Classical music of course. You can get your fix of both in Stratford. Known for the world class talent they bring to their theatre stages, Stratford strived to stay well rounded. In 2001 the first Summer Music Festival took place and was a resounding success.
Held during a three week stretch in July and August, this event features both indoor and outdoor musical performances. The festival’s goal is to bring Stratford some of the world’s most respected classical musicians. 2009 saw Cameron Carpenter take the stage. Carpenter is a masters trained organist from the Juilliard School in New York.
3. Stratford Fairgrounds: Stratford has transformed it’s annual fairgrounds into a complete recreation complex. The Stratford Fairgrounds is home to a number of events. It is home to the Stratford Farmer’s market which is open every Wednesday of the week. You can visit the market and taste the freshest produce, meats and cheeses from the local area.
The Fairgrounds is also home to the annual fall fair of course. Regular events throughout the year are hosted there as well, Bingo nights and Rotary Minor Hockey are big draws. In the Spring you can check out the Stratford Home Show.
Stratford is the arts capital of Ontario, if not all of Canada. Anyone who visits the music or theatre festivals will leave with a sense of satisfaction. You might also get to see Canada’s next worldwide celebrity.
If it isn’t festival season, don’t be afraid to visit Stratford. You can sample many of the great restaurants that showcase local produce or you can spend a day in some of their idyllic parks – including the wonderful Japanese gardens.
For more info on Ontario attractions: Ontario