by Neilia Sherman
Stratford Ontario provides a beautiful and peaceful respite from the everyday trials of life in Toronto. This scenic town is often compared with the bustling Niagara–on–the Lake, because both offer a renowned summer theatre series.
But as a first time overnight visitor to Stratford I found her to be the unpretentious cousin of the more commercial Niagara tourist town.
Stratford is a very pretty city with many charming shops, cafes and restaurants. In fact in 1997, the city was voted the prettiest city in the world and received the Nations in Bloom Award, which was presented in Spain.
In one store that sells lovely giftware and retro items, I was delighted to find five cats snoozing on the counters amongst the various items of kitchenware and china. The staff was friendly and helpfully wrapped all of my purchases as gifts even those that were under five dollars. If you have kids along-there is a huge toy store called “Family and Company” which is one of the best I have ever seen.
The staff actually encourages little ones to try out all of their neat toys and no one is told not to touch or to hurry up and choose. There are even story areas and a puppet theatre.
It was pure heaven to enjoy a picnic lunch along the banks of the Avon River—the namesake of the famous one in Britain of course.
While we feasted on sandwiches, fruit and lemonade we watched a free concert on a barge a few yards away. Tourists, young and old, were entranced by the aristocratic looking swans that swim up and down the river catching bites of the special swan food that is sold by the CVB for a dollar.
Ducks and geese are also part of the parade and it is easy to spend an afternoon just looking at the wildlife and enjoying the cool shade of the overhead trees. The swans first came to this park system in 1913, when a Michigan CNN employee gave two swans as a gift to Stratford. Now the city releases 24 white swans and two black ones each year.
In fact, on April 1st they have a charming ceremony known as the “Parade of the Swans” when the swans are marched from their winter home to the Avon River accompanied by bag pipe players and many of the city’s residents.
We decided that we wanted to get to know our new favourite city even better, so we took a Stratford City Tour aboard an authentic double decker bus. The 90-minute tour includes historical sites, parkland, residential areas and theatres. Stops at the Shakespearean Gardens and Confederation Park complete the tour.
We learned some interested facts about Stratford. It became so-named when a portrait of Shakespeare was given to the proprietor of the Shakespeare hotel by Thomas Mercer Jones of the Canada Company. He had come over from Britain to help colonize Upper Canada. Jones decided to call the village Stratford because of the Shakespeare connection and renamed the river which was originally called the “little Thames”, The Avon.
The highlight of the trip for our seven year old was our night out at the Festival Theatre where we took in the play “My One and Only.” I was worried that he would be bored and that I would find the play corny, but the whole family was mesmerized by the glittery and fast moving song and dance spectacle.
The Shakespearean Festival Theatre really saved Stratford as it was founded around the time that the Canadian National Railway announced its closure. It was the vision of Stratford journalist, Tom Patterson, whose dream was to revitalize the beautiful town with a theatre devoted to the works of Shakespeare. Now there are four theatres and Stratford attracts thousands of tourists with its high quality plays.
We returned to our hotel, which was a slight drive away—it was located just off the highway and across from the large mall. If I was alone with my husband, we would probably stay at a B&B and walk to the theatre, but the Festival Inn with its indoor pool and larger rooms was great for the three of us
My little guy, who gets very attached to some of the places we visit, was almost in tears when we left and we promised to come back to this beautiful spot the following summer.
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Copyright March 2008 by Neilia Sherman. Published March 25, 2008. All Rights Reserved. Photos courtesy : www.welcometostratford.com