The Bard And Beyond

Canada’s Stratford Festival is the top classical theater celebration in North America.
A theatre in the round performance of Romeo and Juliet
A theatre in the round performance of Romeo and Juliet
Photo courtesy Richard Bain

STRATFORD, Ontario, happens to share a name with William Shakespeare’s birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon. So when the railway industry abandoned the town and hard times hit, a local journalist got a pie-in-the-sky idea: How about creating a theater festival? Many trials and even more errors later, the Stratford Festival launched in 1953 under a leaky tent with Alec Guinness as Richard III.

More than 70 years later, it’s grown into the leading classical theater festival in North America and a top Ontario tourist attraction. While Shakespeare is still central to the festival season, which runs April to October, the company of more than 100 actors can also be seen in new plays, revivals, and popular musicals produced in state-of-the-art theaters. This year, visitors can witness the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, the comedy of Twelfth Night, the tuneful Something Rotten! and La Cage aux Folles, and the world premiere of Salesman in China. And that’s not even the full lineup.

A store window with an image of Shakespeare beside the shop's name, "Stratford Festival Shop."
Photo by Erin Samuell

In between shows, take the fascinating Costume & Props Tour or head out and explore any of the manicured public gardens. Charming eateries abound. Seasonal, bistronomy-inspired creations emerge from the bustling kitchen at Bluebird Restaurant & Bar, where the Roasted Rutabaga Ravioli with fresh horseradish and parmesan and the “All Day Break- fast” Salad, laden with Ontario bacon, a poached egg, and duck-fat potatoes, are popular picks. Or slip into the lively Boar’s Head Pub, where you’re as likely to hear folks discussing plays as sports scores.

Exterior photo of brick buildings.
Photo courtesy City of Stratford


STAY For an elegant yet homey escape, The Bruce Hotel offers 25 rooms plus a cottage on 6 landscaped acres. Amenities include a spa and a fresh-cookie hotline.

COZY UP Going with a group? Book The Little Prince Cine-Lounge. With 13 seats, it’s the world’s smallest movie theater. Popcorn is made in small batches on-premises.