The Stratford Festival
After years of missing out on one of Ontario’s famed summer highlights, I decided it was finally time to discover The Stratford Festival. With roots that date back to 1952, The Stratford Festival is known for hosting some of the best theatre in the country (and some of the greatest actors, including Christopher Plummer, better known to Sound of Music enthusiasts as Captain Von Trapp).
Stratford itself is home to a vigorously artistic community that, between the late spring and the onslaught of fall, gets together to produce award-winning theatre; from Shakespearean classics like Othello and Romeo and Juliet, to modern productions like Tommy and My Fair Lady.
“A Fool’s Paradise” B&B
We arrived in Stratford later than expected on Saturday after getting caught in traffic en route from Toronto and had just enough time to check-in to our B&B before heading out for the evening. Being labour day weekend – and one of the last warm weekends of summer – all accommodation in Stratford had been booked up, so we settled on a B&B that was aptly named “A Fool’s Paradise” and was entirely what we should of expected, but didn’t.
The owners of the B&B were an elderly couple who had had far too much of city life and had made the move from Toronto to Stratford 10 years prior. While they were kindly and welcoming, they offered a bed and breakfast that was – dare I say – “homier” than others we’d experienced. By homier, I mean that spending the weekend at A Fool’s Paradise felt distressingly similar to staying the night at grandma and grandpa’s house: comforting, but not entirely the romantic atmosphere we were hoping for. We were ushered into the house and shown our room on the top floor, which had been lovingly prepared and made to be as comfortable as possible. Lacking only a TV (which we didn’t much mind), the room itself was clean (minus the one or two bits of… stuff… that had been missed in the once over), yet canine. Yes, I said canine. These guys were dog people, made clear by the multitude of pictures hung throughout the bedroom, the bathroom, and the staircase between floors depicting dogs from what I can only guess was both past and present. It was cute, initially, and then it got a little weird. My husband started to worry a bit about the “breakfast” part of the B&B experience and we made a mental note to jot down the opening times of the Tim Hortons down the street. We couldn’t help but chuckle to ourselves as we made our way on foot to the Festival Theatre and that night’s performance.
Travelers Tip! There are only a handful of hotels and B&Bs that are located in walking distance of the theatres, so if you’re planning an overnight trip to Stratford during festival season, book early.
Fiddler on the Roof
Given my love for musicals, we had managed to snag tickets to see Fiddler on the Roof. Thanks to their program “Play On” designed to bring young people (specifically between the ages of 16-29) to the theatre, our tickets, worth a few hundreds bucks, were only $25! Definitely incentive enough to give the festival a shot – and boy was I glad we did! The performance was outstanding! Taking place in the Festival Theatre, a venue that allows for any seat to get a grand view of the stage, both my husband and I were shocked at the incredible quality and talent of the actors as they told the story of Tevye and his family, and the challenges they faced living in a small Jewish village in Tsarist Russia; definitely enough to bring us back for more!
After the show, we sauntered back through town – noting that Stratford must be the only town in Canada whose Tim Hortons closed before 11pm on a Saturday night – and returned to the roar of laughter floating out of the windows at our B&B! Confused and intrigued by the sounds escaping the house, we stumbled in to find our patrons sharing a few drinks, and laughs, with the guests occupying the other 2 rooms. Suddenly it dawned on me as to why exactly Stratford was trying to attract a younger crowd with discounted tickets – we were the youngest people in town! The other guests, who we discovered later had been frequenting the festival and staying at A Fool’s Paradise for nearly 13 years, were all nearly twice our age. That being said, they were an absolute delight and my husband and I felt almost bad for declining an offer to stay and have a drink, choosing to head upstairs for a little R&R and give my aching, nearly 9 months pregnant back a break. We ended up speaking more with our fellow residents over a breakfast of burritos, mushroom and spinach crepe stacks, homemade cheese biscuits, bacon, sausage, poached pear and Chelsea buns. Much like the house itself, much effort was taken to provide a delicious dining experience, but I was dying for something fresh and less complex. Give me a yogurt, some fruit and granola and I’m a happy (and healthy) camper!
We decided to check-out of A Fool’s Paradise before spending the morning wandering around the town of Stratford and parted ways with our innkeepers, amused at the overall experience but unsure whether or not staying the night in Stratford was such a good idea…
The town of Stratford, Ontario
Not so accidentally situated just past the town of Shakespeare (which, unfortunately boasts nothing theatrical at all), the town of Stratford is concentrated along one main street that offers a few choice restaurants and the odd cafe nestled between book stores and boutiques selling everything from clothing and handmade trinkets to souvenirs featuring slogans like “To Bieber, or not to Bieber”. Why you ask? Because Stratford, Ontario is also home to Justin Bieber, the once acclaimed boy prodigy turned national disgrace. Regardless, it’s still a place of worship for “Beliebers” and surely helps bring the town additional tourists during the slow season.
Our tour of the town started with a stroll around Shakespeare Gardens, a park set alongside a river that offers a lovely place for a morning or afternoon stroll hand in hand with the one you love. After roaming around the greens and stopping quite literally to smell the most enchanting and beautiful roses, we headed further into town, stumbling across town hall and into historic market square featuring fruits and veg, cheeses, breads and gluten-free treats for all to enjoy, lucky us!
Since our sensors had been stimulated by the mere sight of food, we continued up the main drag towards Balzac’s Cafe where my husband enjoyed what he claims is the best coffee he’s had in Canada while I sipped on some delicious fresh pressed lemonade. It was the perfect end to our quirky stay in this small town. Would I recommend it? Absolutely! The festival and the town are charming and deserve to be discovered.