The History of Stratford

Although now an established community, Stratford couldn't have had a more fascinating history, not even if had been written by Shakespeare himself.

After the war of 1812, it had become clear to the British that the area along the shores of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie were too unpopulated and posed a threat to the security of the province. For this reason the Canada Company was formed in London, England. The company’s purpose was to buy large sections of land in Upper Canada to promote settlement in the British Colony. The government of Upper Canada sold the Huron Tract, a band of land encompassing Stratford and most of Perth County, to the company in 1826, and shortly thereafter, Mr. William Dunlop, an agent for the company, set the stakes for what would eventually become The Festival City (Stratford).

Following the sale the city began to take mold as a town that would be closely tied to its English roots. It was then that William Sargint, an English settler in that area, erected the Shakespeare Inn and Tavern, a major monument at that time. In celebration, Thomas Mercer Jones, a director of the Canada Company gave Mr. Sargint a portrait of the English Bard. This event lead gave Stratford its name and led to the renaming of the creek known as Little Thames to Avon River. Today, a stone marks the site of the original Shakespeare Inn, near 70 Ontario Street, which was destroyed by fire.

Although originally an industrial centre, Stratford's name foreshadowed the city's new destiny as a town alive with music and theatre. However it wasn't until Tom Patterson, a Stratford native and writer for MacLean’s Magazine, approached the town council with the idea of establishing a Shakespeare festival, that the Stratford really because The Festival City. With the rapid decline in industry, council was not hard to convince of the idea and were willing to entertain almost any idea.

Mr. Patterson was the lead actor in opening the doors to what is now called the Stratford Festival. It wasn't exactly an easy task, and the project was almost completely cancelled more than once. In the end, it was Stratford's residents who footed most of the bill, through donations and drives. So, by the time opening night arrived, the entire town, who had already placed all their eggs in one big canvass tent, watched in angst as the theatre filled to capacity with well-wishers and skeptics alike. On July 13, 1953, the Stratford Festival wrote its own history as the curtain raised for the first time.