What I didn’t know about Stratford, Ontario….A lot it turned out.
I knew, of course, about the Stratford Festival. This repertory theatre event has been showcasing the best of the Bard as well as Broadway favourites since 1953. I was acquainted with the idyllic Avon River with its swans and paddleboats. I was also aware that Justin Bieber was born here, and busked on the steps of the Avon Theatre, before catapulting into international stardom. And I heard about Stratford’s prowess on the culinary scene with top-rated restaurants and the Stratford Chefs School, one of Canada’s most lauded cooking schools.
What I didn’t know was that someone like me, whose meals usually involve a can or a jar as a base, could not only take a cooking class at the institute, but could actually manage to produce a respectable Spanakopita, a savoury Greek pastry filled with spinach, feta and herbs.
Though my confidence was admittedly shaky at the beginning of the workshop.
“How is this even possible in three hours?” I whispered to my friend as we thumbed through a booklet with detailed instructions on an formidable Greek menu that included flatbread, spanakopita, tzatziki, moussaka and melomakarona.
No time for regrets, though, as Chef got right down to business, starting with a quick run-through of the dishes and then dividing us into groups, each responsible for different menu items. What I thought was going to be chaos and mayhem all worked surprisingly well and all the dishes miraculously came together. Before long, it was time to enjoy the fruits of our labour, and we sat down to devour the Greek feast with a glass of wine.
But it wasn’t all Greek for me in Stratford.
As a chocolate lover, I was delighted to find out that there’s a Chocolate Trail dedicated to cocoa creations. With precision planning over a coffee at Revel, we mapped out our route and collected our goodies. We especially enjoyed the squares from Black Angus Bakery, and truffles from Chocolate Barr’s Candies.
I was also interested in learning the stories of people who had given up their day jobs to pursue their passions --entrepreneurs like Dave Oldenburger and Phil Buhler, former construction workers, who are now proud owners of Jobsite Brewing Company. A self-described nerd, Phil said they’ve gone down the rabbit hole.
“I consider it an extreme hobby,” he said.
Obsession has paid off with tasty brews that have garnered recognition well beyond the borders of Stratford. Their restaurant serves up wood-fired pizzas, a tasty accompaniment to Wrong Nail Amber Ale.
Right next door at Junction 56 Distillery, I talked with James Donnelly, who quit his tech job at Blackberry in Waterloo to join Mike Heisz in the precision art of distilling. Their first batches of whisky sold out quickly, and their mint smoothie liqueur has a cult following, of which I am now a member of.
Given Stratford’s allegiance to centuries-old literature, one of the biggest surprises was its tech savviness, with innovative start-ups’ centers, a University of Waterloo campus and even a testing center for autonomous cars.
Speaking of self-driving cars, I was lucky to have the chance to test drive the 2019 Ford Edge, a midsize SUV that got us to our destination with ease, comfort and style.
Even though Stratford is less than two hours away from Mississauga, stop and go traffic on the Gardiner and the 401 can increase that time and be frustrating. However, the technology in the Edge significantly lessened the aggravation factor.
The adaptive cruise control meant I didn’t have to worry about how slow the traffic was because the vehicle adjusted accordingly. What was different in the Ford Edge compared to other vehicles I’ve tried with comparable technology, was it came to a complete stop on its own. Yes, believe it or not, as the ‘driver’, I didn’t have to touch the brake pedal (however much I wanted to).
In addition, the Lane-Keeping System kept us centred effortlessly. I barely had to touch the steering wheel. Other impressive technology included emergency braking, remote start, parking assist and blind spot alerts.
With so much automation, it was easier to enjoy my Spotify road trip playlist on the Edge’s first-rate audio system with 12 speakers. With good music, comfy seats that sat high up, a large windshield and even a sunroof, it was a pleasure to cruise the highways. The center console stored all our gear easily and had a convenient wireless phone charger.
Despite its size, the Edge was agile, handling like a much smaller vehicle. And fuel efficiency? With this SUV, we could rename the column half-tank trip because that’s all the gas we needed to get to Stratford.
When you go:
Visitstratford.ca has on an on-line personal discovery concierge that lets you pin your events and map out your visit.
Accommodation: We stayed at the Birmingham Manor Bed & Breakfast, a beautifully restored heritage house in walking distance to downtown attractions. Our lovely host not only had good taste in décor, but also cooked up an incredible gourmet breakfast.