48 Hours In Stratford, Ontario
To kick off today’s post, we’ll take you back to the first conversation we had with Bruce Whitaker, owner of Edison’s Inn in Stratford, Ontario. In early March, Bruce got in touch and very graciously invited us up to stay at his beautiful inn in Stratford. He went as far as to plan a full 48 hour itinerary so that we could experience Stratford in all its glory, even in a time crunch. As we reviewed the itinerary we noticed that each stop in town, whether it was a restaurant, bar, or store, came with a guide (i.e., a member of the community who had volunteered their time to show us Stratford through their eyes). Positively overwhelmed by the amount of effort and care that had gone into planning this weekend, we immediately accepted Bruce’s invite.
So, without further do, a 48-hour guide to Stratford, as recommended by the community that makes this small town so special…
DAY 1 - FRIDAY:
5:30pm: Stratford is easy as cake to get to from Toronto. If driving, the journey is just over 2 hours long, but getting there is simple even for city dwellers who don’t have regular access to a car. No connections and changing stations, just a straightforward train journey. After wrapping up work on Friday, we walked over to Union Station and got on the 5:30pm ViaRail. The two hour journey is a breeze, and makes for a great evening break to catch up on your Netflix/Crave queue.
8:30pm: We arrived right on time to a smiling Bruce and hopped in his Stratford Road Trips van for a quick drive around town, during which he gave us the lay of the land. Bruce fills us in on his family, his travels to India, and the diversity in Stratford in spite of it being a small town. We drove by the courthouse, the school, the jail, the lake and more, until we circled back and parked in front of Edison’s Inn.
FUN FACT: Edison’s Inn gets its name from Thomas Edison! Thomas Edison lived in the very same building for 6 months back in 1863, when he was 16 years old and working his first job as a telegrapher. You’ll find the Inn lip up with Edison bulbs (everyone’s fave) and framed quotes by the infamous inventor.
Tucked away right on the corner of Ontario St. and Erie St., Edison’s Inn is unassuming on the outside but quaint and full of heart on the inside. Although Bruce only took over the property two years ago, he has completely revived the old building. The inn offers three unique suites - the Music Suite, the Chill Out Suite, and the Café Suite. Every room also comes with a TV and Netflix subscription, board games or a chess board, coffee and mugs, and more, giving you the option to stay in comfortably and find solace while away from home.
The Music Suite pays homage to Justin Bieber, featuring a large mural of the cover art from his album “Purpose”. It was painted by none other than his own aunt. Why, you might ask? Stratford is the very town that gave us the Biebs! It’s his hometown. Don’t worry though, the mural is abstract enough that really anyone could enjoy it, especially once you shift your focus to the room’s record player and extensive record collection. We stayed in the music room and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. With a king sized bed and bathtub, who wouldn’t?
The Chill Out Suite sits right across from the Music Suite on the 2nd level and offers views of Ontario St., while a maple tree protects and offers guests privacy in spite of being city-facing. The room really lives up to its name, existing as the cosiest little nook to rest and recharge in. This is a great room if you’re in Stratford for a little R&R, whether that means cozying up with a book on the couch and people watching from your window during page breaks, or dozing off in bed while rewatching your favourite movie.
The Cafe Suite gets its name because it connects directly to Edison’s Cafe on the ground level. The room faces Lake Victoria, featuring the same views as the Music Suite above it. The bathroom was a real stand out in this suite, featuring high ceilings, a gorgeous Spanish-style tiled floor, and a sky light. The Cafe Suite is ideal for lounging, with two full sized sofas and a bed, but also perfect for on-the-goers who like to start their day with a large dose of caffeine. A door that locks from inside the room allows you to walk right into Edison’s Cafe to get a head start on your day. We’re definitely eyeing this room for the next time we plan a trip to Stratford!
9:00pm: Once we’ve dropped of our bags and freshened up, it’s straight to dinner at Pazzo Taverna with Claire Scott. A champion of the Stratford art scene, Claire recently left behind her city life in Toronto to pursue art full time in her hometown — the mix of being close to the comforts of home while getting to pursue her passion was an unbeatable combination. Claire currently owns and operates the York Lane Art Collective, which we compel you to check out because she is seriously the coolest chick ever. Claire’s plan was to seat us at Pazzo and leave us after a drink or two, but we got completely caught up in conversation and simply couldn’t let her leave. As for the food? Listen, I could tell you about the delicious fatty pancetta in my carbonara, and I could show you photos of the burrata of my dreams (accompanied by roasted garlic et al), but really you should head over there and taste it for yourself. 10/10 would recommend. Our server, Mark Gibson, was hilarious and extremely knowledgeable and truly made the meal just that much better.
10:00pm: We were lucky enough to not only visit but also crash a birthday party at Revival House. Revival House is a church-turned-bar complete with it’s own not-so-secret hidden bar upstairs, the Belfry. It is all cool as heck. People of all ages (i.e., all ages above 19. Drink responsibly!) were scattered throughout the bar dancing, or drinking, or chatting, or all of the above. We stuck around for a tipple or two, getting to know more members of the Stratford community, before heading in for the night. Grandma and grandpa need their rest!
DAY 2 - SATURDAY:
10:00am: We sleep in just a little before heading over to Old Man & Son for a traditional diner brekky — eggs any style, Canadian bacon, toast, and a pot of coffee. Bliss. At brunch we meet Kelly McIntosh, an actor, the Stratford Museum director, and an all round super stylish woman. Over coffee, we get to know one another and before leaving Kelly draws up a map of her favourite shopping route through the town.
While brunch was a timeless classic, and the diner itself has many vintage sensibilities about it, Old Man & Son actually only opened it’s doors towards the end of 2018. Old Man & Son is unique in that it is part of a trifecta of worker-owned businesses in Stratford, alongside The Red Rabbit restaurant , and Okazu 85 Downie bar. We had a chance to meet and briefly chat with one of the owners, Jessie Vortay, who is an absolute force to be reckoned with. On any given day she is splitting her time shuttling between all three businesses, lending herself to whatever is needed in the moment. And she does Brazilian jiujitsu. Girl power! You can tell community is important to Jessie, and it shines through in every single one of the businesses she has a part in.
11:00: Using Kelly’s map as a guide, we make our way around town window shopping, and then really shopping. Here’s a list of our favourite stores from those we visited:
Wills & Prior - Lifestyle and home bits and bobs.
Distill Gallery - Canadian-designer focused clothing, jewellery, art, and more.
Chocolate Barr’s Candies - Quite literally chocolate heaven.
The Green Room - An eclectic mix of shoes, clothes, cards, accessories and more. Curated seasonally.
Kinna Sohna - Indian bags, shoes, clothes and more brought straight from the Motherland by owner, Sartaj.
12:30: After shopping, we head to the Stratford Festival warehouse with Bruce for a tour of over 60,000 costumes and props. FYI, much of Stratford’s culture is steeped in theatre and the musical arts. Every year they host famed actors from all over the world, and Stratford is actually primarily known for the Stratford Festival, an internationally renowned repertory theatre festival which runs from April - October (i.e., high season in Stratford). David Charlesworth, photographer extraordinaire, and resident picture-taker/funny guy at Edison’s Inn meets us for the tour, capturing pictures of us trying on one too many crowns and a jester costume, or two. Our guide, Ann, demonstrates a true passion and curiosity for the musical arts as she leads us through the creative process and the thousands of painstaking hours that go into these making costumes.
2:00: Busy day ahead! We hop straight into the van with Bruce and David, and are joined by a couple of Bruce’s friends. En route to Blyth Creek Maple Farm, we all get to know each other over the sounds of Tom Odell playing on the radio. Once there, Alistair and I quickly realize we’ve miscalculated our foot wear for a maple farm and Sugar Bush tour in rainy April. I tie plastic bags around my ankles and Alistair slips into a pair of the farm’s work boots — it’s fashion, baby — and we hop onto a wagon that drives us into the woods. For a full run down of what to expect on your tour, click here. This was a first time experience for the both of us, and I could not recommend it more. It’s so unlike anything us city kids have ever experienced and it’s just pure fun. P.S., Get a maple milkshake on your way out!
7:00: After we’ve cleaned up, we head to Keystone Alley for a little pre-dinner tipple. Unfortunately we miss the owner by about 15 minutes, but have the great pleasure of chatting with our bartender, Johnny, who is the first stranger I’ve ever met that is enthusiastic about dogs as we are (i.e., the limit does not exist). Having worked as a bartender across the world, Johnny knows what he’s doing. He serves us one of his latest creations, the Bitter Lemon Ash, which is a vodka/gin (you choose) based cocktail that’s infused with a whole lotta zing and is absolutely delicious.
8:00: Words aren’t enough to describe dinner at The Red Rabbit. Not only were we able to see Jessie once again, but our server Dan was the absolute sweetest, and the food was coma-inducing. Nashville hot chicken, winter squash and crispy Brussels sprouts, and some truly spectacular steak. Pineapple sorbet to wash it all down, and we’re out.
9:00: As if we hadn’t indulged enough already, we made our way over to what sounded like everyone’s favourite bar in town — Okazu 85 Downie. Okazu is sleek and hip — rustic gold chandeliers and mirrors are offset by bright blue walls and industrial ceilings. The cocktail menu is nothing short of delectable and we have trouble landing on a cocktail. With some help from Jessie (told you she shuttles between all three restaurants in one day), we settle on a Yuzu Sour and a French Bull dog *chefs kiss*. Glug, glug, glug… time for bed. It’s been a long day.
DAY 3 - SUNDAY:
10:00: Saturday’s indulgent ways catch up with us during an hour-long hot yoga class at Modo Yoga (formerly Moksha Yoga). After our Flow class, we refuel with herbal tea and get to know the wonderful owner of the studio, Christa Mabee. We’re not ones to clock in any exercise while travelling, but yoga was a more than welcome departure from that.
11:00: To cool off some more we head to our favourite coffeehouse in town, Revel, joined by Bruce. While we nurse lattes Bruce invites a friend to join us, who we later come to learn is prolific musician Ron Sexsmith. In addition to his own work, Ron has collaborated with the likes of Michael Buble, Rod Stewart, and Leonard Cohen. Talk about a small world!
12:00: We take a few hours to catch our breath. After a quick nap, we’re ready for the next activity.
4:00: Date night — but in the afternoon — at Gallery Stratford. When we arrive at the workshop, a crafts table is laid out with newspaper, sparkling apple juice, chocolates, pretzels, two 8x11 canvasses, different coloured plasticine blocks, and some crafting tools. We’re psyched (Well, I am… Alistair’s excitement catches up eventually). We chat with the charismatic and positively hilarious Melissa Quinn, Curator of Education at Gallery Stratford, while molding and smearing multicoloured plasticine across our canvasses. The gallery hosts these date nights once a month for $50 plus HST per couple, if you and your boo/bud are into it, which you should be because it was incredibly fun and no one had to spend $80 on dinner. Plus, you go home with crafts!!! 11-year old me is LIVING.
5:00: We walk from the gallery back to Edison’s Inn along the edge of the river. The swans have just returned to the lake and although I am deathly terrified of birds, it’s a beautiful scene.
6:00: We spot an old fashioned ice cream parlour right by the back gate of the Inn — Jenn & Larry’s Ice Cream Shoppe — and can’t help ourselves. Alistair get’s soft serve dipped in cotton candy syrup in a cup (the most Alistair order ever), and I get a malted chocolate milkshake (the most Karuna order ever).
7:00: We have a spare thirty minutes before we have to leave for the ViaRail back to Toronto, so we dart to the Pazzo Pizzeria, which sits underneath Pazzo Tavern, and serves up wood-fired pizzas. Una Diavola e Margherita per favore! Yum.
9:00: Bruce drives us back to the station in his trusty van, and we’re already making plans to come back in the summer. Next time, beach day along the blue waters of the coastal town of Bayfield. Until next time!
— FIN —
*Disclaimer: This trip, inclusive of stay, travel, food, and drink, was gifted to us by Edison’s Inn; however, all opinions stated herein are our own.