Stratford Ontario is famous for its Stratford Shakespeare Festival, but you can also enjoy its music festival, great parks, outdoor art show, and neat little boutiques.
If you like theatre, art, gardens, and great old heritage buildings, put this one of your list: Stratford. This quaint little 19th century town is one of my favourite summer day trips.
I'll start with its "star" attraction: The Stratford Shakespeare Festival.
This Stratford summer theatre festival is one of the most famous venues of Ontario theatre and Canada's best-known producer of Shakespearean plays. Each year, the theatre mounts several of the bard's works. But that's not all. Witty musicals and family shows also run here from April to October.
The Stratford Shakespeare Festival has grown in reputation and size (it now has four theatres) since its humble beginnings in July of 1953. At the time, the city of Stratford was languishing in economic doldrums. The town had been dependent on industry related to the railway, and the railway had recently departed, throwing many out of work. Stratford-born journalist Tom Patterson is credited with coming up with the idea of founding a theatre that would attract visitors and rejuvenate the dying town.
It sounded like a far-fetched idea at first. But 50 years later, it's clear that the dream became a reality and the town, still small but healthy, owes much of its prosperity to the tourists who come to see the fabulous plays each year and take in the beautiful scenery along the river.
Music lovers will want to take in some shows at annual Stratford Summer Music Festival. It features classical, jazz and world music. Some of the concerts are ticketed and some are free (outside, along the Avon River).
The river itself is an attraction.
You might enjoy strolling along the banks and watching the swans, or dropping into the Shakespearean gardens and saying hi to my old friend Will.
If you're a shopper, don't miss the downtown boutiques housed in well-preserved 19th century heritage buildings, where you can find Inuit and First Nations art work at Gallery Indigena, bookshops, a Scottish shop, and my favourite: the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory (the chocolate-covered sponge toffee is to-die-for). You'll also find unique clothing and gift shops.
During the summer, check out Art in the Park, an outside art and craft show in the peaceful park along the shores of the Avon River. I can't really think of a better place for an art exhibit. After you've made the rounds of the tables and talked to the artists, you can take a rest on one of the benches or picnic tables nearby and admire the scenery.
The small but charming Stratford-Perth Museum with its historical displays is an interesting place to spend an hour. I also like to just walk or drive around the town and take in some of the heritage buildings: humble homes, imposing mansions and this over-the-top Victorian confection, Stratford's City Hall!
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