One thing you'll definitely want to do is explore the Avon River. You can do this in four ways. If you're fit and comfortable in a smallcraft, you can rent a canoe or kayak and paddle around. If you're a little anxious about a tippy craft, the paddle boats are your best choice. And if you'd rather not do the work, and prefer a narrated tour of the Stratford park system, you can ride in comfort on the Juliet III, Avon Rentals' tour boat. You can't go wrong with any of these choices.
Sorry, I have no current rate information.
Open at 10:00 AM daily.
Stratford boasts three Anglican churches (and is remarkably well-equipped with places to worship in general, even if one of them has been turned into a restaurant), but since St. Paul's is closest to the Swan, where we always stay -- within walking distance if the weather is fine -- that's where we've spent our Sunday mornings. It is a small and friendly place, with services at 8:30 and 10:30 AM. I suppose one of the things that captivated me on my first visit was that there was a large sign over the front door, as one exited the sanctuary: YOU ARE NOW ENTERING THE MISSION FIELD. A good reminder of what we're supposed to be about!
St. Paul's doesn't have a website, unfortunately, so I don't have any current information on parish affairs, midweek services, etc.
Gallery Stratford, in a restored pump house, is conveniently located on the parklands surrounding the Festival Theater, which is about five minutes' walk away. The Gallery's permanent collection includes about a thousand prints, drawings, paintings, sculptures and photographs by significant Canadian and international artists. The collection consists of largely of works on paper, including works by respected modern and contemporary artists such as Salvador Dali, Tom Dean, Edward Burtynsky, Norval Morrisseau, Kim Adams and William Ronald. During my last visit, they featured a number of works on loan from the McMichael Collection of Canadian Art, and it was a wonderful show. I'm looking forward to my return to see what's on next.
There are three galleries as well as studio space and a pleasant gift shop. Admission is $5.00; seniors and students are $4.00.
Gallery Stratford is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 AM until 5 PM during the tourist season (May- September). Winter hours are 11 AM to 3 PM.
Naturally, there are a variety of playwrights whose works are performed during every season at Stratford -- and there are several theaters now in which productions take place. But for my money, it just doesn't get any better than seeing the Bard performed on a stage which replicates that of the original Globe.
Everything about the productions is exciting, starting with the beautiful grounds surrounding the Festival Theatre. Then people are crowding in and finding their way to the seats, checking the program to see whether a favorite actor or actress is featured. And then the lights dim, and the magic begins. All too soon you're at the interval, and perhaps you step out onto the deck to get a drink, seeing the twinkling lights of Stratford as you consider how fortunate you are.
Our family has been coming to Stratford virtually since it began, which meant that for long periods of time I was well-acquainted with the repertory company. Brian Bedford, Nicholas Pennell, Maggie Smith, Christopher Plummer, Derek Jacobi, Colm Feore...wonderful actors all, some no longer with us and others directing, appearing only infrequently. I want to begin to know the new actors but it is harder to get out to Ontario now that I live on the East coast!
During the summer of 2011, the company will be performing "Twelfth Night", "The Merry Wives of Windsor", "Titus Andronicus" and "Richard III" by old Will, as well as a number of other contemporary and other plays and musicals. For full details, check the website.
Open Mon-Sat 9am-8pm; Sun 9am-5pm
The Festival Theatre is the premier theatre of the four Stratford Festival theatres. It has seating for 1800 people in a circle around an Elizabethan thrust stage. The theatre has all the trappings of high theatre with $15 parking next to the theatre (but lots of free parking if you are willing to walk a ways), live background music, cafés serving alcoholic drinks and light lunches, beautiful gardens surrounding the theatre, and sculptures outside around the theatre.
In 2008, tickets run from $50 to $100 each and you can select your actual seats on-line -- it worked quite well. In 2008, the Festival Theatre played five plays depending on the day you visited - including Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet and Taming of the Shrew.
Ontario Street is the main street in Stratford – just don’t call it Main Street, as there is one of those too. It is where you will find numerous restaurants, knickknack shops and various other boutiques for all your touristy needs. There are lots of shops selling Canadian art, should you feel the need to purchase several soapstone sculptures. The street is too wide and has too much traffic for it to really qualify as being one of those quaint small town shopping districts, but you can still get a bit of the feeling if you shut out the numerous SUVs and pick-up trucks whizzing by you.
Above the World War One memorial, where the buildings open up to provide a walkway from Ontario Street down to the lake, a second memorial has been dedicated to the sons of Stratford who died in the Second World War. As I wrote in my tip on the WWI monument, WWII is not seen as being as pivotal a conflict for Canada as WWI, which might explain why this monument is not as interesting as the WWI monument. It might also be the influence of different styles of sculpture. In any case, it is something to take notice of as you leave the “urban” part of town for the river front.
Before the days of increased mobility and the exodus from the towns caused by the growth of industry, conscription and wars were the largest motivators for young men leaving communities like Stratford. More than a few of the town’s sons were killed in the First World War, which is largely seen as being the more important of the two “World” conflicts in Canadian historiography, and the town has constructed an impressive memorial to those lost on the banks of the Avon, near the locks and at the end of the river-side walk. It features a statue in the neo-Classical style, as well as a number of cannons pointed out to the river (I’m not sure why the cannons are there, as Stratford has likely never seen active conflict).
I rather like Stratford City Hall. It reminds me of the Kremlin, in a way, and otherwise I’m not sure how to describe the building’s architecture other than being based on a sort of large circus big top. In any case, it seems almost comically large and impressive for a town of 30 000 people, and provides a great landmark for pictures. It stands in a fairly open part of town, isolated from the theatre and surrounded by the artsy shops and restaurants that service the tourist trade. I don’t think that you can go into the building, but then again I imagine that entering it would somehow diminish its power to impress.
The Perth County Courthouse seems far larger than it should be. Of course, you have to remember that the building dates from a time at which Stratford and other towns were not dwarfed in importance by Toronto, but rather were centres of business for the Province’s largely rural inhabitants. The building features some typically Canadian architecture, as well as a bit of an eclectic style in its tower and pompous trimmings. It dominates the end of Ontario Street (the main street through the centre of the town) and its tower is clearly visible as you drive into Stratford from the east.
The Shakespeare Gardens are one of those tourist attractions that seem to have little to no purpose other than to build on the single reason a town attracts visitors. These are gardens intended to be typically English, with their gravel paths and their abundance of green spaces and trees. The area is quite peaceful, although I have a feeling that that was only because I was there on a late March afternoon, and that Sundays in the summer feature more than a bit of a crown in this part of the historic centre. The gardens feature a pleasant view of the river, a bust of the Bard and several structures (a tower, a gazebo, a little building) intended to add Elizabethan character to the area.
This town would not be a proper Stratford if it didn’t have some sort of body of water. Obviously, the lake is much prettier in spring and summer than in the late winter, not least because the entire area is green and the water is at full level. The lake also has swans during the warmer months, in order to recreate as closely as possible the same atmosphere as in the English Stratford. There is a winding pathway next to it that is a favourite for couples strolling on summer afternoons and especially those who walk their dogs. It goes all the way into the historic area, so it’s a good idea to follow it from the eastern edge all the way to the women’s theatre and the World War One monument. Otherwise, you might consider packing a few sandwiches and having a little picnic on the grass along the shore.
The most famous attraction in Stratford is the Shakespeare Festival, which actually features performances of great plays by both modern playwrights and the Bard. The festival takes place throughout the entire summer. Although plays are put on at a variety of theatres throughout the town, the Festival Theatre is really the heart of the event and it is usually where the best plays will be shown. It is a large and modern structure that can seat many viewers, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t be sold out for top-billed productions. In front of the Theatre are the Arthur Miller Gardens, which feature a variety of local flowers.
If you have an hour before your play, go for a walk around Lake Victoria. There is an asphalt path on the south side and a dirt path on the north side. You pass all sorts of benches and picnic tables and can feed the swans and ducks in the lake.
We met someone feeding the swans. Supposedly, if you decide to feed the swans, you are encouraged to feed them garden vegetables and not bread. The swans have had their flight feathers clipped, so I wondered where they spent their winters.
In the walk around the lake, you pass two of the four Stratford Festival theatres. Close to the Festival theatre, every Wed, Sat and Sun, during June, July, August & September you will find Art in the Park -- unless weather is inclement. Guess what, the day we went, it rained on and off most of the day, so no art for us.
There are a number of gardens in downtown Stratford. One of them is the Shakespearean Gardens along the Avon River west of Lake Victoria. It includes a formal English gardens, rose gardens and a sundial. I enjoyed figuring out which herbs are which in the herb garden.
It is a great place to sit and contemplate, watching the Avon River (well - more of a creek) go by.