|I just returned from an exciting long
weekend at Canada’s Stratford Festival of Canada. Like the theatre in
England, the main thrust in Canada is Shakespeare. But don’t be dismayed.
There is something for everyone including the children. It is a magical
place set on the shores of the Avon River in Stratford Ontario, only a few
hours drive from Detroit. It comes complete with swans floating on the
water, trumpeters calling people to witness their performances and stores,
hotels, restaurants and venues, all with a Shakespearean name. I have been
going to Stratford for over thirty years. It never disappoints.
Over the years I’ve seen nearly all of the Shakespearean
works plus Gilbert and Sullivan, Broadway shows like Cabaret and The King
And I and plays by Ibsen, Noel Coward, Moliere, Tennessee Williams, Chekhov,
Eugene O’Neill, Beckett and Brecht. I’ve been enchanted by such greats as
Christopher Plummer, Maggie Smith, Paul Scofield, Julie Harris, Hume Cronyn
& Jessica Tandy, Alan Bates and a host of talented Canadians like William
Shatner, Len Cariou, William Hutt, Megan Follows, Jean Gascon and the great
I’ve seen Loves Labour Lost, Hamlet, Pericles, Macbeth,
Taming Of The Shrew in traditional costume and in Western togs. I’ve seen
all the Richards, Henry, Romeo & Juliet, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and a
whole series of Greek tragic figures. I’ve sat spellbound as these
well-trained giants of the theatre have taken me off to mystical forests,
through tempests and great battles, through bedroom farces and operettas and
a kings thoughts as he toiled through his ‘summer of discontent’. I was
there when the long-bowmen, that ‘band of brothers’ brought glory to England
at the battle of Agincourt. I laughed, I cried, I sat spellbound in my seat
as the greatest players performed the greatest plays in a theatre that I
always find awesome.
It started as a dream by Tom Patterson, a native son, who
saw Stratford fall on difficult times. His dream was to revitalize this
beautiful old town
with a theatre devoted to Shakespeare. The city council
and people supported him, as did the legendary British actor and director
Tyrone Guthrie, who agreed to become the first Artistic Director.
A giant canvass tent was erected in the parkland next to
the river and placed on a concrete amphitheatre built to the specifications
of Tyrone Guthrie and the renowned theatre designer Tanya Moiseiwitsch.
Then, from that finished amphitheatre, modeled after the
classical Greek theatre at Epidaurus, over 2000 people heard the great Alec
Guinness emerge as Richard III and speak of his “winter of discontent”.
It did indeed do something for Stratford as it “made
glorious summer’. It made the world take note that Canada had arrived as a
serious theatrical country. This stage with a 175-degree arc of seats has
brought thrills to millions over the years. It draws over 600,000 people a
year and runs from April to November.
Aside from the main Festival Theatre, the old movie house,
The Avon, was transformed into a comfortable second venue, smaller by far
than the great center near the water, but this mid town theatre has become a
happy addition to the Stratford dream. There are stars set into the sidewalk
in front of the theatre. I stood close to the Alec Guinness star and thought
of how Stratford began.
A ‘Second Stage’ was added years later to give young would
be actors a chance to show off their talents. The Festival offers wide
programs of educational and enrichment values to teachers and patrons and
the training of future classical actors.
The inauguration of back stage visits with the actors,
discussions, readings and recitals all add to the offerings of this popular
Next year the Festival offers six Shakespearean works such
as A Midsummer’s Nights’ Dream, Macbeth and Henry VIII. It also diversifies
with Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo and Cole Porter’s Anything Goes. Add
Noises Off, Cymbelene, Timon of Athens and the popular Guys and Dolls and
you have a season to look forward to.
Stratford Ontario is easily accessible from both Detroit
and Toronto. It sits in a lovely part of verdant Ontario and has all of the
support systems in place to make your stay comfortable.
There are hotels, guesthouses, bed and breakfast
operations and even campsites. The restaurants are plentiful and the price
is right with the American dollar buying about $1.40 Canadian.
There are activities for children and wonderful golf
courses for the athletes. Add the Shakespearean Garden where one can wander
along paths and smell the roses. It was named champion of the Nations in
Bloom contest. Don’t miss it.
The swans, ducks and geese add to the wonderful setting.
And in keeping with Shakespearean names the arboretum is called Birnham
Wood. Shopping is easy in the town. There is even a shop that specializes in
items from Scotland. But I wouldn’t call Stratford ‘cutesy’ or cute. It’s a
business town with a special flavor and was named the “World’s Most
Beautiful City for a town of its size in 1997.
Since Stratford is close to a large Amish community, there
are handicrafts such as traditional quilts. For those collectors of Inuit
sculptures, Stratford is a must. There is manufacturing here too with local
wares available everywhere.
I couldn’t count the number of Bed & Breakfast operations,
many with cute country names like Brigadoon, The Chisholms, The Cat’s
Pajamas and a cozy hotel within walking distance of the main theatre called
The Victorian Inn.
Over the years I’ve have tried different ones. They are
usually cozy, welcoming and have superb breakfasts. But you must book early.
With 600,000 visitors, rooms book early, especially on summer weekends.
This year we selected the Essex Guest House, owned and
operated by the affable Lester and Viola Huntington. The Huntingtons are
transplanted from rural Quebec. Their homey touch and traditional atmosphere
was worth the stay. I would select the Robin Room with its large balcony.
All rooms have air conditioning, bathrooms ensuite and the choice of
breakfast is wide. I had some of the best scrambled eggs I can remember on
each of the mornings I spent in this warm, family atmosphere. The cost is
about $100 per room. There’s ample free parking and a lovely quiet balcony
ESSEX GUEST HOUSE is located 4 minutes from the Avon by
foot at 243 Wellington Street.
Call for a reservation at 519 273 7785 or Fax 519 273
9191, for a very satisfying experience among good people.
One of my other meals was taken at the bustling Fellini’s
Italian Café and Grill. Here in an atmosphere of warmth and service, I
tasted the Eggplant Parmigiana, baked with marinara sauce and mozzarella
cheese while my wife enjoyed the well-prepared stuffed Chicken Marsala with
prosciutto, Fontana and Marsala sauce.
I debated over the traditional Tiramisu or Cioccolata al
Massimo but decided that a rich chocolate mousse cake would wait for another
Fellini’s is at 107 Ontario Street. Phone: 519 271 3333.
Then, one day, we wandered into the Bistro 104 at 104-108
Downie Street across from the Avon Theatre. We opted for the lunch section
where the carrot and cinnamon soup was delightful. The other half of this
truly wonderful eatery is a more sophisticated but unpretentious dinner
restaurant with enough mouth-watering ideas to satisfy any gourmand. Here we
were greeted by the happy smile of owner/operator Paula Stock who, although
overworked by her own admission, made us feel at home while April took our
orders with a smile and a special sense of hospitality and good humor.
I tried their Grilled Chicken Supreme with ginger lime
glaze, Coconut Jasmine Rice and Asian Greens. It was pure pleasure and at
$20.95 Canadian, a true bargain. My wife had the Tortiglione Pasta with
Charred Tomato Sauce and local goat cheese, black olives and fresh basil for
only $14.95.Would I go back again? You bet. This place is comfortable and
only a few seconds from the delights of the Avon Theatre, just across the
A reservation is suggested. What they call ‘casual bistro
fare’ can be enjoyed with plenty of time to get to the theatre for the
opening curtain. Call ahead at 275-2929 or check out their web site at
Stratford, Ontario began as a settlement in 1832. The
incorporated village became a town in 1854 and was divided into five
wards—Avon, Falstaff, Hamlet, Romeo and Shakespeare. The Shakespearean
connection has always been present.
The railroad started in 1856 when the Buffalo and Lake
Huron line and the Grand Trunk Railway established themselves in 1871. The
city grew but it was the creation of the Festival that put the city on the
map. If what I saw continues (and I’m sure it will), it will be a Mecca for
theatregoers for years to come.
It is the ‘stuff that dreams are made of’. Visit soon.
Let the play begin!
You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at:
Over the past few years, Professor
Greenberg has traveled with groups to France, Italy, Spain, Greece,
Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague and both Sorrento and the Bay of
Naples plus most of Sicily. His tours traveled to the far reaches of the
globe including Italy and most of
China (Beijing -Hong Kong) and to Russia where his group cruised the waters
from St.Petersburg to Moscow.
"He took a group to Greece and another to northern
Russia. In Nov 07 he took a tour group to much of India and ended his tour
groups by revisiting France. He now travels with his wife and friends. They
winter in Argentina or San Miguel Mexico. His newly found spare time
is taken up with his painting and writing. "I must write every day." His
current work is a cautionary manual for would-be tour leaders.. "So
You Want To Be A Tour Leader."
Arnie now travels with friends. He continues writing
Travel articles about unusual places but often concentrates on novel
writing. Two books based on French Art will be published this year.
Keep reading his web for travel ideas. His next
novel HELLSTORM'S Folly,
will be available this fall. He now
lives in British Columbia.
www.top-travel-ideas.com or contact him directly at
(More about the writer.)