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Stratford, Ontario

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1886 (city)


1859 (town)

345 m (1,132 ft)

Stratford, Ontario

Stratford is a city on the Avon River in Perth County in southwestern Ontario, Canada, with a population of 31,465 in 2016 in a land area of 28.28 square kilometers. Stratford is the seat of Perth County which was settled by English, Irish, Scottish and German immigrants, in almost equal numbers, starting in the 1820s but primarily in the 1830s and 1840s. Most became farmers, and even today, the area around Stratford is known for mixed farming, dairying and hog production.


Map of Stratford, ON, Canada

When the area which is now Stratford was first settled in 1832, the townsite and the river were named after Stratford-upon-Avon, England. Stratford was incorporated as a town in 1859 and as a city in 1886. The first mayor was John Corry Wilson Daly and the current mayor is Dan Mathieson. The swan has become a symbol of the city. Each year twenty-four white swans are released into the Avon River. The town is well known for being the home of the Stratford Festival previously known as the Stratford Shakespeare Festival; while Shakespeare's plays are still produced, theatre in a wide range of genres is offered each year, from May to October.


In 1832, the development of an area called "Little Thames" as the market centre for the eastern Huron Tract began. By 1834 a tavern, sawmill and grist mill had opened, and by 1835 a post office, called Stratford, was operating. The Smith's Canadian Gazetteer of 1846 describes Stratford as follows: "Stratford contains about 200 inhabitants. Post Office, post three times a-week. Professions and Trades.—Two physicians and surgeons, one grist and saw mill, one tannery, three stores, one brewery, one distillery, one ashery, two taverns, two blacksmiths, one saddler, two wheelwrights, three shoemakers, two tailors. Settlement was slow until the early 1850s when the railway arrived.

Furniture manufacturing and railway locomotive repairs were the most important parts of the local economy by the twentieth century. In 1933 a general strike, started by the furniture workers and led by the Communist Workers' Unity League, marked the last time the army was deployed to break a strike in Canada. The Grand Trunk Railway (later CNR) locomotive repair shops were the major employer for many years, employing 40% of the population.


  • 1828 - Settlement begins.
  • 1832 - Thomas Mercer Jones, an agent of the Canada Company, names the village "Stratford" and renames the portion of the Thames River running through it the "Avon River." The first sawmill, hotel (Shakespeare Hotel) and gristmill are opened.
  • 1834: The community has a tavern, sawmill and grist mill; in 1835 the first post office opens.
  • 1849 - The Perth County News is Stratford's first weekly newspaper.
  • 1853 - Perth County is created, with Stratford as its county seat.
  • 1854 - Stratford is incorporated as a village.
  • 1856 - Stratford becomes a railway town with the arrival of the Grand Trunk and Buffalo-Lake Huron railways.
  • 1859 - Stratford is incorporated as a town.
  • 1864 - The 17-year-old American telegraph operator Thomas Edison briefly lived at 19 Grange Street.
  • 1871: A major railway repair yard opens (the town's major employer by 1901) and helps accelerate the population growth.
  • 1885 - Stratford is incorporated as a city with a population of 9000.
  • 1887 - The second and current Perth County Court House opens; it is praised for its High Victorian architecture, with several Queen Anne features, and Richardsonian Romanesque elements.
  • 1898 The massive red brick town hall, in the Victorian "Picturesque" style, with a prominent clock tower, is completed.
  • 1903 - The first public library opens, built with $15,000 of financial assistance from American steel magnate Andrew Carnegie.
  • 1908 - The Stratford Normal School opens to train teachers; from 1953 on, it is called the Stratford Teachers' College. The school trains nearly 14,000 teachers before closing in 1973.
  • 1909 - The GTR (later CNR) locomotive repair shops building is completed; it is 16,800 square meters (182,000 square feet) in size.
  • 1918 - A gift from J.C. Garden, a pair of Mute swans come to live in Stratford. The population would expand over subsequent years.
  • 1920s - Stratford is already a major furniture manufacturing centre; nearly one-sixth of all the furniture made in Canada is shipped from here. (All such manufacturing will have ceased by 2006.)
  • 1933 - The army is called in to attempt to end a general strike (mostly of furniture workers) and try to systematically remove communist leaders, but fails, the last time the military is used to quell a strike in Canada.
  • 1936 - The Shakespearean Gardens are created, primarily through the efforts of R, Thomas Orr.
  • 1953 - The Stratford Shakespearean Festival Theatre is opened through the efforts of a Stratford journalist, Tom Patterson.
  • 1957 - The Festival moves into its first permanent structure, the Festival Theatre.
  • 1964 - The CNR shops close, laying off numerous employees.
  • 1976 - The Stratford City Hall is designated a National Historic Site of Canada.
  • 1992 - Stratford Armoury is a recognised Federal Heritage building 1986 on the Register of the Government of Canada Heritage Buildings.
  • 1993 - Stratford's former Canadian National Railways (VIA Rail) Station is designated a Federal Heritage building.
  • 1997 - Nations in Bloom crowns Stratford the "Prettiest City in the World."
  • 2003 - The Stratford Festival of Canada celebrated its 50th season, welcoming 672 924 patrons to 18 plays. This was a record number of playgoers during the 50 seasons. The Avon Theatre realised a complete renewal and the Studio Theatre, a fourth theatre space seating 250 people, was added.
  • 2009 - Canada 3.0 brings 1500 people to Stratford.
  • War

    The memorial, erected by the city of Stratford, is dedicated to the memory of the war dead of the First and Second World Wars and the Korean War. It was created by renowned sculptor Walter Seymour Allward who also designed the Canadian National Memorial in Vimy, France. The memorial was was gifted by Mr. Walter B. Allward, of Toronto. The base is granite and the figures bronze. The total width runs eighteen feet, and the total height sixteen, the figures are eight feet high. The tall figure on the high ground expresses the better, the spiritual man, while going down into the valley is the disarmed figure of strife, the group showing the supremacy of right over brute force. On the face of the centre base are the words: "They Broke the Sword and Brought Peace to my Land." On the Slide base is inscribed the names of Stratford's war dead. The memorial was placed at the end of Erie Street, where it joins Ontario Street.

    Notable past and present residents

    Notable residents that have lived in Stratford include singers Loreena McKennitt, Justin Bieber and Richard Manuel; classical singer James Westman; actors Shawn Roberts and Joe Dinicol, and author R. J. Anderson. Canadian news anchors Lloyd Robertson and Tony Parsons both got their start in broadcasting at local radio station CJCS, Robertson in 1952 and Parsons in 1957. CBC news anchor Peter Mansbridge and his wife Cynthia Dale currently live in Stratford, as does actor Colm Feore. Stratford is often credited as the home of hockey star Howie Morenz, who was actually from nearby Mitchell. The northern block of Nile Street, between Lakeside Drive and Water Street (on which the Allman Arena is situated) was renamed to Morenz Drive in his honour. William D. Connor, Lieutenant Governor of Wisconsin from 1907–1909, grandfather of former Congressman and Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird, and great-grandfather of Jessica Laird Doyle, wife of Governor James Doyle of Wisconsin, was born near Stratford on a farm.

    Thomas Edison briefly worked as a telegraph operator in 1863 for the Grand Trunk Railway at Stratford's railway station at age 16. He was held responsible for a near collision. Instead of waiting for punishment, Edison left and returned to his parents' home in Michigan.

    John Davis Barnett was an Assistant Mechanical Superintendent of the Grand Trunk Railroad and Mechanical Superintendent of the Midland Railway and librarian; later in life becoming a collector donating to the University of Western Ontario. The assistant architect of the United States Capitol, Michael G. Turnbull, was born in Stratford and lived there until the age of eleven, when his family emigrated to the United States. Dr. Norman Bethune made Stratford his temporary home in the early part of 1917. He worked as a physician at the home/office on Albert Street that was occupied by Dr. Lorne Robertson in the 1930s (now demolished). The two cast iron dogs from this residence now stand outside the entrance to Queen's Park at the north end of Parkview Drive. His sister Janet and her husband Thomas Stiles were host to Norman and his new wife Frances in 1924, when they stayed at Janet's home (at 335 Cobourg Street) for several months. Dr. Robert B. Salter was born in Stratford. The first woman to be elected member of the House of Commons of Canada, Agnes Macphail, attended teachers college in Stratford in 1909-10. Duncan MacKinnon was a druggist in Stratford, 1873-76, and a penmaker, the inventor of the stylographic fountain pen in 1875.

    Historical plaques erected by the Government of Ontario recall the contributions of two Stratford residents. R. Thomas Orr was influential in transforming an industrial area along the river into the vast parkland. (More specifically, "R. Thomas Orr kept Stratford’s parks and waterfront from being turned into a rail yard [in 1913]. ... He was the first secretary of the parks board in 1904. The board bought the land for Queen’s Park and convinced the city to dam and dredge the Avon River to create Lake Victoria.") Orr helped to establish Stratford's library and the war memorial and was the founder of the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority and the Stratford Historical Society.

    Tom Patterson (theatre producer) visualized a Shakespearean festival in 1951 and worked to get the support of local politicians and British Shakespearean director Tyrone Guthrie. Within two years, the festival was a reality. (Patterson helped convince Alec Guinness to perform; he played Richard III in the opening production.) In addition to being considered founder of the Festival, Patterson also helped found the Canadian Theatre Centre and the National Theatre School.

    Municipal government

    The city is governed by an elected City Council, with a mayor and ten councilors, elected every four years. Sub-committees of Council make recommendations to the Standing Committees of Council that are then forwarded to City Council for a final decision. The current mayor is Dan Mathieson.

    Stratford Festival

    The Stratford Shakespeare Festival began in 1953 when, on July 13, actor Alec Guinness spoke the first lines of the first play produced by the festival.

    The performances during the first four seasons took place in a concrete ampitheatre covered by giant canvas tent on the banks of the River Avon. The first of many years of Stratford Shakespeare Festival production history started with a six-week season, opening on 13 July 1953, with Richard III and then All's Well That Ends Well both starring Alec Guinness. The 1954 season ran for nine weeks and included Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and two Shakespeare plays, Measure for Measure and The Taming of the Shrew. Young actors during the first four seasons included several who went on to great success in subsequent years, Douglas Campbell, Timothy Findley, Don Harron, William Hutt and Douglas Rain.

    The new Festival Theatre was dedicated on 30 June 1957, with seating for over 1,800 people; none are more than 65 feet from the thrust stage. Over the years, additional theatrical venues were added: the Avon Theatre, the Tom Patterson Theatre (originally Shakespeare 3 Company) and the Studio Theatre. The annual festival now draws hundreds of thousands of theatre goers and tourists to the area each year. Acclaimed performers have included Alec Guinness, Christopher Plummer, Dame Maggie Smith, William Hutt and William Shatner have performed at the festival. The Canadian novelist and playwright Timothy Findley performed in the first season, and had an ongoing relationship with the festival, eventually moving to Stratford in 1997.

    As recently as 2012, the Festival had a deficit of $3.4 million, but a surplus of $3.1 million was achieved by 2015 under the control of artistic director Antoni Cimolino and executive director Anita Gaffney. They had not yet reached the target of a half million ticket sales for the season (to match a previous record) but had achieved a significant increase in the number of new patrons to the theatres.

    The 2017 season, with all-Canadian directors, offers a wide range of productions. Those at the Festival Theatre include Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, Taming of the Shrew, Molière’s Tartuffe and Guys and Dolls. Other classics HMS Pinafore, The School for Scandal and a new version of R.L. Stevenson’s Treasure Island.


    Numerous visitors arrive in Stratford each week during the May to October Festival season, often by the busload. Some stay overnight and many spend some hours here, shopping, taking a stroll around the Avon River and the historic downtown area, stopping for lunch or dinner. National Geographic Traveler considers the theatres to be nirvana and also praises other aspects of the town. "During the festival—which stages everything from Shakespeare to Sondheim to new Canadian plays—you can stay in theater-themed B&Bs, hang out with actors post-show at local bars like Down the Street, go on backstage tours, and attend dozens of other events with other theater-mad folk. Stratford itself is the type of walkable wholesome town Rodgers and Hammerstein might write a musical about."

    In addition to the Festival, several annual events attract visitors. Stratford Summer Music, in its 17th year, runs for about a month. In 2016, the event, run by the Town, offered 85 concerts, a third of them free or "pay what you can". The 2016 budget was $800,000 with funding provided by agencies such as the Ontario Cultural Attractions Fund. Smaller event are held in other months, including winter and the Swan Weekend in April, to attract off-season visitors.


    The city is in a successful agricultural area and has some auto parts manufacturing, but tourism is still the most significant aspect. According to an estimate by the Conference Board of Canada, it generates $140 million in economic activity, $65 million in taxes and 3,000 direct and indirect jobs. For the past few years however, the town has been working to attract more technical industries with mayor Dan Mathieson spearheading the effort. The Royal Bank of Canada opened a $300 million data centre here, Starwood Hotels is experimenting with a new type of call centre, and the University of Waterloo has opened a satellite campus with about 500 students specializing in digital media and information technology, and as the home of the technology forum Canada 3.0 and various technology companies.


    Stratford has been internationally recognized as a digital technology centre and a "smart city". For the past three years Stratford has placed in the Top 7 Intelligent Communities for 2011. In 2013 Stratford was beat out by Taichung City, Taiwan, which has a population of over 2.3 million people. Each of the Top 7 Communities recognized by the Intelligent Community Forum "exemplifies best practices in broadband deployment and use, workforce development, innovation, digital inclusion and advocacy that offer lessons to regions, cities, towns and villages around the world".

    The city is waiting to hear whether it will be selected by the Government of Ontario as the area for testing driverless cars on public roads. The entire city would become a test centre; this would require the installation of a major new digital infrastructure to enable communications between vehicles, with the roadway and with traffic signals. Preliminary testing of driverless cars has been done here already, by the Waterloo's Centre for Automotive Research, affiliated with the University, but the decision as to where the multi-million dollar technology grid will be installed has not yet been made by the Province. The city's free Wi-Fi network may be of value to IT industries and is an indicator of its serious interest in advanced technology.

    The Stratford Festival's executive director Anita Gaffney is also the president of Invest Stratford, the city’s Economic Development arm. Her comment on the initiatives: "We’re fortunate to have a mayor like Dan Mathieson. He’s got a great vision for the city. He’s working to get a lot of different sectors working on digital platforms … including automotive".


    The city's three secondary schools are:

  • Stratford Central Secondary School,
  • Stratford Northwestern Secondary School,
  • both part of the Avon Maitland District School Board, and

  • St. Michael's Catholic Secondary School, which is part of the Huron Perth Catholic District School Board.
  • Stratford is also home to the Stratford Chef School.

    University of Waterloo Stratford Campus

    September 2010 marked the official opening of the Stratford campus.

    Founded in June 2009, the University of Waterloo Stratford Campus is part of the Faculty of Arts, established to provide programs that focus on digital media, digital technologies, content creation and user experience.

    This location offers undergraduate, graduate and advanced education programs and research opportunities as well as opportunities for research and commercialization. According to the University, this campus "is a collaborative, strategic partnership between the city of Stratford and the University of Waterloo to bring students, researchers, industry and entrepreneurs together to create, examine, and commercialize opportunities in the digital media space. The Waterloo Stratford Campus is leading an evolution in learning and career preparation. Students are immersed in a rich, technology-driven environment where theory and practice, science and commerce, creativity and innovation merge to forward digital media."

    In June 2009, the University of Waterloo Stratford Campus and the Canadian Digital Media Network (CDMN) hosted the Canada 3.0 forum in Stratford to map Canada’s digital future and create opportunities for new business and jobs. In May 2010, the second Canada 3.0 was held in Stratford again.

    Police Services

    The City is served by the Stratford Police Service. The police board consists of two members of city council, a citizen appointed by Council, and two citizens appointed by the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. Stratford's first constable was hired in 1854.

    Other areas of Perth County receive services from the Ontario Provincial Police, Perth County Detachment in Sebringville with satellite offices in Listowel and Mitchell.


    Historically, the city was a railway junction. Today Canadian National Railway, and the Goderich-Exeter Railway provide freight links, and Via Rail Canada is the passenger carrier. Via's rail service in Stratford is based from the Stratford railway station, and is situated on the Toronto-Sarnia segment of the Québec City-Windsor Corridor; Via serves Stratford with four trains daily (two eastbound to Toronto Union Station, one westbound to Sarnia via London, and one westbound terminating at London). Whilst not on the 400-series highway, it is at the junctions of Highways 7 (Ontario St.), 8 (Huron St.), and former 19 (Now Perth Road 119, Mornington St.) and is connected to Highway 401 by expressways from Kitchener. Greyhound Canada provided daily service between London and Kitchener but the route was cancelled as of July 2011. The owners of Cherrey Bus Lines, Robin Hood Tours provides chartered bus service from Stratford to locations as far as Kincardine and Wingham. Within the city, Stratford Transit provides the local bus service, running every half-hour six days a week. The Stratford Municipal Airport (CYSA) is located just north of the city.

    Sports and recreation

    Stratford is home of the OHA Midwestern Junior B hockey team, the Stratford Cullitons. The Cullitons have produced notable NHL players such as Ed Olczyk, Craig Hartsburg, Garth Snow, Rob Blake, Chris Pronger, Nelson Emerson, Tim Taylor, Greg de Vries, Jeff Halpern, Rem Murray and Boyd Devereaux and won several Sutherland Cup championships. Stratford hosted Tim Hortons Hockey Day in Canada on January 30, 2010. Stratford used to also have an Intercounty Baseball League Team called the Stratford Nationals, and a soccer team in the Kitchener and District Soccer League. House League sports are also available in the Stratford area. There is the Stratford Rotary Hockey League, Hoops For Fun Basketball, Stratford Minor Baseball, the Stratford Soccer House League and the Stratford Dragon Boat Club. Stratford is also home to the Black Swans rugby club. The Chess Federation of Canada has its administrative office in Stratford. Stratford is also well known for its local swans, in 2013 it had 22 white swans and 1 black swan. Every year, the swans are marched to the river with an accompanying bagpipe band.


    The Stratford Summer Music Festival has been held for seven seasons and features indoor and outdoor performances by international, classical, and world music artists as well as young Canadian performers around downtown Stratford.

    The Stratford Concert Band, a local wind ensemble, traces its history back to the GTR Employees Band, later named the CNR Employees' Band formed in 1907 by James Malone. 2007 marked their 100th anniversary performing in Stratford and they celebrated with a gala concert and reception in May. The band performs free outdoor concerts at the Kiwanis Pavilion Bandshell in Upper Queen's Park Wednesday and Sunday evenings from June until September.

    Notable musicians with a local connection include Loreena McKennitt (who now makes Stratford her home), Justin Bieber, Richard Manuel of The Band, Dayna Manning, Graham Van Pelt of Miracle Fortress, Darren Dumas of The Salads Ali Matthews/Rick Francis, John Till, who backed Janis Joplin, and Ken Kalmusky, who played with Ian & Sylvia's Great Speckled Bird. During their early careers, Manuel, Till and Kalmusky were members of the Stratford group, The Revols, and later became members of Ronnie Hawkins' backing group, The Hawks. Ken Kalmusky's son David Kalmusky, is a Juno awarded, multiple gold selling, Grammy nominated producer, mixer and musician. Several international operatic singers reside in Stratford such as Baritone, James Westman, and Tenor, Roger Honeywell. In 2004, the city of Stratford presented Richard Manuel of The Band with a sidewalk star in the busy tourist section of Ontario Street. There is also a memorial bench seated next to the Avon River dedicated in his honor.


    Stratford has a humid continental climate type (Köppen: Dfb). The highest temperature ever recorded in Stratford was 102 °F (38.9 °C) in July 1936. The coldest temperature ever recorded was −31 °F (−35.0 °C) in January 1882.


  • The Beacon Herald,
  • The Stratford Gazette
  • SNAP Perth
  • Magazines

  • "Stratford Living Quarterly Magazine"
  • "Stratford Living Seasons"
  • Radio

  • CJCS 1240 AM
  • CHGK-FM 107.7 FM
  • Sister cities

    Stratford is a member of the Stratford Sister Cities program which was created to promote friendship and cultural exchange between participating countries. Participation is restricted to places called "Stratford" that have a Shakespeare Theatre or Festival. A reunion is held every second year by a different member.

    The five principal sister cities of Stratford, Ontario are:

  • Stratford upon Avon, England, United Kingdom
  • Stratford, London, England, United Kingdom
  • Stratford, New Zealand
  • Stratford, Connecticut, United States
  • Stratford, Prince Edward Island, Canada
  • References

    Stratford, Ontario Wikipedia

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