things to do in Stratford

Coffee @ Edison's with John Kastner

At the age of 13, John Kastner began working as a clerk at Stan’s Village Market in Sebringville, a village 10 minutes outside of Stratford. Stan’s provided everything ‘you needed today’ including milk, meat and chewing tobacco. John and his boss would travel most mornings to a fresh fruit market in Grimsby. After ensuring the quality of the peaches, through a tasting of course, John would sell the fruit out of a full truck. 

Coming from a small town, John was apprehensive about school in the big city of Stratford but soon got involved in sports. Often sitting on the bench of his school team, John had the time to learn from his basketball coach who was regimented in his approach to preparation. John recited the coach's line when the game was deadlocked with a few seconds to go: ‘And boys this is why we practice’.  John later became a paperboy, worked as a reporter and rose through the ranks to become managing editor at The Beacon Herald, Stratford’s local daily newspaper. He wrote newspaper stories for over 33 years.

John is currently responsible for writing the story of the Stratford-Perth Museum where he is the General Manager, as job he is well for as his family arrived in the Stratford area in 1832. The Stratford-Perth Museum is not the stereotypical museum, full of dusty exhibitions that don’t change for years, the museum that almost every child avoids during the family visit. Exhibitions change regularly and often address a challenging issue from persecution (Anne Frank in 2016), to identity (Masks in 2017). to minorities (Nanuk’s Journey). Attendance has grown from 853 annual visitors in 2013, when John began his stint to, 11,000 in 2016. 

WHAT MAKES STRATFORD SPECIAL?

Three things immediately come to mind: live theatre, the culinary experience and community. The Stratford Festival presents a dynamic mix of fun, appealing theatre and thought provoking theatre. With the theatre operating since the early 1950’s, there has been a continuity that has allowed for a family of contributors to develop. The incredible variety and number of world class restaurants means you never have to go to the same restaurant for over twenty meals. Finally, you can stand at any corner street and you will have three people ask what you are looking for. It is such a safe, inviting place. 

HOW HAVE YOU EVOLVED THE MUSEUM?

Museums don’t have to be old and outdated. History is fascinating and I have tried to add a progressive and exciting element to Stratford-Perth that is appealing to as many folks as possible. Collaborating with the Stratford Festival was monumental in our progress. They approached us about doing something together. One of the things was to create a display at the Festival Theatre. 

WHAT ARE YOUR EXHIBITIONS FOR THIS YEAR?

We have four very exciting exhibitions in addition to our regular displays. 

Conceal/Reveal explores identity and the masks we hold up to face the world – to reveal our desired identity or conceal an inner self. Through a dazzling range of props and costumes, the Stratford Festival’s 2017 exhibition will show how onstage masks and disguises are at the heart of drama. The Stratford Festival’s The Breathing Hole, a Canadian play based in the Arctic and presented at the Studio Theatre, is the inspiration for two incredible travelling exhibits at the Museum.

The Franklin Expedition examines traditional Inuit knowledge, the reasons behind the fatal expedition in search of the Northwest Passage and the clues collected during the initial research efforts. Supporting the exhibit will be a number of reproductions of Franklin Expedition artifacts, dive equipment, photos and resource materials. 

Treasure Island, at the Avon Theatre, enables visitors, both young and old, to dress up like Long John Silver, grab a sword, sport an eye patch and pose for a picture on the deck of a pirate ship. Or you can be a young Jim Hawkins and quietly hide in a barrel for safety. There’s even a treasure map. 

Nanuk’s Journey features 17 major sculptures from the AGO’s Samuel and Esther Sarick Collection. Focussed on the subject of Nanuk (the polar bear), the exhibition complements the Stratford Festival’s The Breathing Hole, a new play by Colleen Murphy directed by Reneltta Arluk (Gwich’in and Chipewyan-Cree).

SOMETHING MOST PEOPLE DON’T KNOW ABOUT THE MUSEUM?

There is a trail at the site used for walking and snowshoeing. Several of our visitors tour the exhibitions for about an hour and a half. They then enjoy a walk and a picnic lunch. It’s interesting how visitors need time to digest the experience afterwards as traveling through history can be emotionally challenging. During the last few years, an outdoor skating rink is built each winter, right in front of the museum. 

WHY DID YOU STAY IN STRATFORD?

During my time at the newspaper, I saw many of my colleagues come and go. It was typical for journalists to move to other newspapers for advancement. I have friends who have moved on to various media companies from Toronto Star to ABC News. I never left. Actually, I never even really considered it. I had a young family and felt so contented here. The relationships and support network I have in Stratford is so special. If I pull off to the side of the road, it’s only a matter of minutes before someone stops and asks if they can help with gas.

WHAT WOULD YOU RECOMMEND IN STRATFORD? 

When you come to Stratford, it’s not the same as going to a casino town or city. There is a lot here to do beyond the theatre. After the theatre, don’t immediately jump back on the bus. Check out the cool shops, Stratford Art Gallery and, of course, the museum. Many come to town and even love just grabbing fries in a parking lot from Ken’s French Fries or enjoying a beverage or meal at Mercer’s. 

WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO?

Colleen Murphy's new play The Breathing Hole is the tale of a polar bear and the humans it encounters over 500 years, including Inuit, the Franklin Expedition and passengers and crew of an Arctic cruise ship. Indigenous people have rarely been part of stage. The Festival has not only brought in Inuit actors but they have brought in their first Inuit director, which is about breaking down the power structure.

Edison’s is very pleased to be partnering with the Stratford-Perth Museum. On the second floor, guests will find a display of an original voice recorder invented by Thomas Edison. The Stratford-Perth Museum is short drive outside of the city (5 minutes) or a 30 minute walk from downtown. The museum is open 9-5 seven days a week. 

Coffee @ Edison's with Kimberly Hurley

Shortly after meeting Kimberly Hurley, a saying came to mind: the best view comes after the hardest climb. It was in Zambia’s dense jungle where one of Kimberly’s most challenging climbs took place. Kimberly and her best friend from Stratford, Marissa Izma, came across Kibombomene, a small rural community without access to proper education and adequate healthcare. The two women worked to build a high school to satisfy the many young local girls' aspirations for school beyond grade 8.

While hauling construction supplies for the new high school, Kimberly met her husband, Anthony, a native of South Africa, who was operating a hotel and restaurant. Surprised to see two beautiful, savvy women in the middle of the Zambian jungle, Anthony immediately turned on the charm. Kimberly laughed at the African Casanova - as she wasn’t looking for a relationship - but she did accept the offer of free food and running water. Over time, however, their bond grew leading to a trial living experience - two weeks in Ireland - after many years of Anthony unsuccessfully attempting to get his tourist visa to Canada.

The challenging travel continued for Kimberly, with Anthony in tow. Kimberly was offered a job helping the hearing impaired in Nunavut, flying between more than twelve communities. It was a rewarding but frustrating five years as the challenges of the North and its sparse service offerings seemed unjust in comparison to what was experienced in other Canadian communities. The pull of family resulted in a move to Stratford where Kimberly currently works as an audiologist. At night, her personality shines at Keystone Alley, their newest venture, a bistro very much worth a visit.

What is Same World, Same Chance?

It began as project to build a girls' high school for the isolated village of Kibombomene, Zambia. The organization now helps Kibombomene women advance their skills at a private school in Lusaka, the capital.

What have YOU gained from your global travels? 

In Zambia, it was about being fully immersed in the present without thoughts of the past or future. Happiness was not based on possessions. It was based on being yourself and being with others. I wasn’t weighed down by things I didn’t need.

I left Nunavut unsettled. There is so much need there. However, the people do not typically complain or advocate for themselves. I have presented a Tele-Audiology Model to the Government of Nunavut, in hopes that they will change their service delivery model to address the needs of their people.

How would you describe Keystone Alley?

The previous owners, Patty and Sheldon, had operated Keystone for thirty years and had very loyal customers. We kept their ideals but changed the cuisine to fit with our passions.

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We decided to be less formal with a Bistro theme and a focus on everything being local and homemade - even our ice cream and soon beer. There is also a bit of South Africa incorporated in the menu, especially in the desserts. This summer, we hope to offer a few very special South African drinks. 

What do you love about Stratford?

My parents and sister being here. It is so lovely to hear customers say such wonderful things about my parents - my father was a much loved teacher in town - and they have formed a special bond with my two children.

Living in Stratford has also given me a feeling of being part of the bigger picture. Guests can walk to everything and be connected to incredible shops and restaurants all in a small place. For families, check out Upper Queen’s Park for playgrounds and beautiful surroundings. 

What is your advice to visitors? 

Pick up a yummy milkshake at Jenn and Larry’s and walk down York Street towards Stratford’s Art Gallery. York Street is trendy and has so much heritage. It is across the water from the original settlement in Stratford. Few visitors are aware of the the waterfall in Confederation Park on the hike to the Gallery. The flowers and the cool “bridge to no where” all add to the charm. On the way back, check out the local stores. Get lost in the Green Room, with its eclectic mix of cool items. For upscale, professional women’s wear drop by Dana Nicole’s and Resonance for trendy, casual and professional. The Forest Motel is a great place for a quiet getaway in Stratford.

Do you have a favourite road trip?

Take a trip to Elora Gorge, a quaint town lined with fabulous shops, St Mary’s for its stone architecture and river walk and Shakespeare for antiques. Huron Lake is also one of our favourites. It's quiet and peaceful and immense. Many of our friends confuse it with an ocean!

Keystone Alley is one of my favourite restaurants (www.keystonealley.com). On a recent visit for dinner, the absolutely delicious cuisine left our group in a fabulous mood on the walk home. The menu offers items that most guests wouldn’t cook at home which makes the night out a treat. Check out Same World, Same Chance at www.sameworldsamechance.org. Jenn and Larry’s Brittle n' Shakes and Ice Cream Shakes can be found behind Edison’s on York Street.

About Stratford with Helen Matheson

The Green Room is a welcome escape from big box stores and a 'must visit' when in Stratford. Helen Matheson, the owner, lovingly curates the treasures ranging from a huge selection of Hunter Boots to sassy greeting cards, from a select range of lingerie to Pendleton plaid shirts.

Born on a small farm, close to the Ontario town of Glencoe, Helen quickly learned that life takes a lot of elbow grease. She was the sidekick to her father and quickly took hold of the book keeping duties. As a 12 year old, she became even busier with the passing of her father. She laughs at what people must have thought of her trying to get the laundry up over the laundry line. It took her a several attempts as she was so small. Though Helen desperately wanted to go to university, her family didn’t have the money. Instead, she became the dean of retail.

The Green Room started as a music store when Helen and her former husband moved to Stratford. Buying antique cupboards to put stereo equipment on gave her the buying bug. She came across white dinner jackets at a market and the city lined up to buy them. The Green Room became the place to find prom outfits - 50’s prom dresses - and Helen the styler to teens. During June, boys could often be found getting lessons on how to tie bow ties from Helen. Next up was Hawaiian shirts, speak easy clothing, fashion from Toronto designers, and many other eclectic type items.

What brought you to Stratford?

My husband had secured a music store franchise and we had a choice of two areas - Stratford and Guelph. We chose Stratford because it was closer to London, where we lived at the time. My first impression upon arriving was why were the storefronts so boring. I worked to create a front window that was not only intended to bring in customers but that was something interesting for the city and its residents. 

How did you decide on the name Green Room?

When we moved into the space, it was so large that we had to create a common lingo that would map out where things were. A certain area of it was painted green so we called it the green area. Then, we needed a name for the store, we just decided to use it. Funny thing is that customers thought that we were so smart in referring to the green room at theatres - the place where actors get ready before coming on stage. We had no idea that’s what it was called. 

What have you learned about retail?

There is so much dependance on market research when choosing retail products. I think it’s much simpler - a person who would buy a $400 pair of shoes might also buy a $2 fridge magnet. I tend not to plan but rather to follow my intuition.

What is your favourite part of Stratford?

I am passionate for music and there is lots to choose from in Stratford. Stratford Summer Music is spectacular as it is so creative in its offerings. Last year, they partnered with the Stratford Field Naturalists --whose members walk the trails every Sunday morning at 9 a.m.-- to lead the walk and identify some of the birds singing in the trees. At several intervals along the way members of the aptly named Charm of Finches played their flutes among the bird calls and the wind in the leaves. It is spectacular. 

What is your design sense? 

I am inspired by going to trade shows throughout North America including annual sojourns to Toronto, NYC and Atlanta. I’m also a very loyal magazine subscriber to Vogue, Home and Garden and Toronto Life.  I have a simple buying process - I buy what I love because if the product doesn’t sell I have to look at it every day. Better to look at something I love. 

Any tips for a tourist to Stratford?

Go to the Sunday Slow Food Market at Falstaff. It is centrally located and intimate. It’s unlike other farmer’s market which rely on food from a terminal. At the Sunday market, you will find local greens including parsnips, beets, carrots, basil, tomatoes, spinach and swiss chard. It is a 5 minute walk from Edison’s. Also, do some shopping. Because of all of the tourists, Stratford is able to be more progressive in its offering of products and services as it has to respond to the tastes of tourists from all over the world.

Helen is a very special friend and neighbour of Edison’s. The Green Room is a unique place and one of the reasons why this writer moved to Stratford. Check it out Tuesdays to Saturdays between 10 a.m and 7 p.m. Summer Music runs from July 17th-August 27th. The headliner for this year's program is Buffy St Marie.