Travel Canada: Stratford, Ontario – An All-Around Arts Destination

Stratford, Ontario - Arts Destination

Stratford, Ontario – Arts Destination

Travel Canada: Stratford, Ontario – An All-Around Arts Destination

By Dominique Millette

The town of Stratford in Canada is a world-famous theatre hub after embracing the destiny its name implied. Since Alec Guinness and Irene Worth joined the cast of Stratford’s inaugural performance of Richard III on July 13, 1953, luminaries such as Christopher Plummer, Jessica Tandy and Colm Feore have graced its stages.

However, there’s more to the town than Shakespeare and Justin Bieber (no doubt its most famous native son at present). Stratford embraces independent singer-songwriters and has a lovely downtown area with shops and restaurants set in well-preserved heritage architecture. So, if you’re headed to the Stratford Festival, don’t just take a bus straight from Toronto. Stay and enjoy the sights, smells and sounds, including summertime Art in the Park, year-round Chocolate, Maple or Bacon and Ale Trails, the Garlic Festival in September, the Blues and Ribfest in June, and Stratford Summer Music – not to mention the numerous small venues with artisanal food and/or concerts by regional musicians, such as Monforte on Wellington. Tours of historic Stratford are also available: on foot, by boat or, on select weekends, by horse-drawn carriage.

Stratford in Ontario, Canada

Stratford in Ontario, Canada

Spring is a lovely time to see the town, with the Annual Swan Release taking place the first Sunday in April. However, the theatre season starts with previews in late April to early May. A late spring to early fall visit is more likely to offer the full Stratford experience.

FEEDING BOTH SOUL AND PALATE

Along with artisanal cheeses, Monforte on Wellington offers home-style meals and live music on selected evenings. The staff is as friendly as the meals are delicious. They have an array of simple but tasty soups, salads and main dishes, some of them gluten-free. Invited musicians regularly liven up the intimate stage and include Shannon Lyon, Cat Clyde and Colleen Brown. The restaurant has also hosted documentary nights.

Another popular lunch venue with great soups is Sirkel Foods. Its brightly coloured décor will help pass the time as you line up with the many other lunch patrons.

If it’s Italian food you crave, look up Pazzo Pizzeria and Taverna. Their signature pies bear names like Marco Pollo (for the chicken) and Italian Stallion (a veritable sausage fest). Pazzo also hosts jazz music during the summer, amongst other entertainment such as Ron Sexsmith.

For upscale dining which has garnered rave reviews, there’s The Church Restaurant and The Belfry, which focuses on local and organic produce. It offers a dining experience in the middle of a former Baptist church, complete with stained glass windows.

If you’re inclined to take the mic yourself, you can battle local talent at karaoke night on Sundays at Molly Bloom’s Irish pub, serving up several craft brews from across Canada. The fainter of heart can opt for blues, Irish entertainers, DJs or trivia nights at the Brunswick Street venue.

CRAFTED WITH CARE

Stratford’s downtown features several specialty food and goods shops. On Wellington, the Baker and the Butcher offer fresh sausage and a dizzying array of cheeses. Olive Your Favourites specializes in international oils and vinegars, while coffee shops abound along with bookstores all along Ontario Street. For all your needs in esoterica, as well as jewellery and clothing by local artists, drop by The Magic Box.

Stratford’s well-preserved architectural landmarks shine today as brightly as ever: the town hall, court house, library and even the jail are all must-see buildings showcasing the town’s past.

Stratford in Ontario, Canada

Stratford in Ontario, Canada

A PLACE TO LAY YOUR HEAD

There are several hotels and motels in Stratford, which fill up fast during the height of the theatre festival season. Booking ahead is highly recommended.

At the edge of town, the Suburban Motel has reasonable rates and very friendly owners. Back roads offer a few cycling opportunities as well. There are stores and places to eat a few kilometers away.

Closer to both downtown and all theatre venues, The Bruce Hotel is set on six and a half acres of land on Parkview Drive and offers privacy, a gym and an indoor pool, as well as in-house dining.

Meanwhile, The Parlour Inn is a vintage boutique hotel and gastropub right on Wellington in the heart of Stratford, a block away from two of the smaller Stratford Festival stages. It was first built in 1871 for the passengers of the Grand Trunk Railway.

IF YOU GO:

Stratford in Ontario, Canada

Stratford in Ontario, Canada

BIO:

Dominique Millette is a Toronto-based bilingual author and translator, as well as a freelance writer. She has worked in several weekly newspapers and written and published a novel in French (La Delphinée), one theatrical monologue and several short stories. One of these, “Oomblaug Day”, was published in Parsec magazine. Another, “Better than Elvis”, was published in Maisonneuve magazine. She has also studied with Joan Barfoot at the Humber School of Creative Writing.

 

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