City Hall

Stratford Beginnings and Now

Festival Theatre Stratford

Every year thousands of people visit from all over the world to watch incredible theatre productions with some of the best talent in the world at the Stratford Festival.

Names such as Christopher Plummer, William Shatner (long before Star Trek), Maggie Smith, Brian Denehey, Tyrone Guthrie, and Colm Feore are only a few of the fine actors who have graced the stages of the four Festival Theatres.

Murray and I have been fortunate to have seen and been present at a number of performances by these great actors.

For the younger generation, Stratford is the home of Justin Bieber, who was born, grew up and was “discovered” here.  He visits occasionally and can sometimes be seen visiting his old haunts on his motorcycle, like the Variety store across the street, where he had his picture taken with the owner’s son.  

Long before European settlement, many Indigenous groups called this land home: the Anishinaabe, Attiwonderonk (Neutral) and Haudenosaunee Peoples. The land where Stratford now stands is a part of Treaty 29, the Huron Tract Purchase, which was signed in 1827. Just one year later, European settlement of the area began, and in the winter of 1831-32, Little Thames, Stratford’s former name, was founded by William Seargeant. In the two years following, the area’s first sawmill, gristmill and tavern opened, along with the Shakespeare Hotel which still stands on Erie Street. With the arrival of the Grand Trunk and Buffalo-Lake Huron railways in 1856, the town began to grow as the industrial revolution gained momentum..

While both the town and river originally were called Little Thames, the Avon River and what is now Stratford received the names they’re known as today in 1835. This was done to honour the birthplace of William Shakespeare – Stratford-upon-Avon in England.

Since then, a number of developments have occurred in Stratford. To name only a few, Thomas Edison briefly lived resided here in 1863, the town became the foremost furniture manufacturing centre in Upper Canada,  as well as becoming the Hub for the Railroads as it was so centrally located. Of course, in more recent history, Tom Patterson established the well-known Stratford Festival in 1952.  You will find many more interesting details about the history of Stratford when you visit the Stratford Perth County Museum.

Fun fact: Thomas Edison once lived in a residence above Edison’s Café on Ontario Street in 1863, for his first job as a telegrapher.