We left Ottawa last Thursday (14th) for the long drive to Stratford, much of the journey along the dreaded 401. Fortunately our GPS suggested we take the toll road around Toronto, which was much faster and much less congested. We camped in a country park about 16 km out of town, the nearest campsite option. We absolutely loved Stratford, situated on the Avon, complete with swans. The theatre is right on the river, its architecture reminiscent of the tent where the festival first began. We saw two productions, Guys and Dolls and Romeo and Juliet, both beautifully staged and well acted. The town is is renowned as a gourmet destination and we had an excellent meal at the Bijou Bistro, the first farm-to-table restaurant in the area. We also visited the farmers market to buy local cheeses and fresh produce. The corn was every bit as good as Silver Rill.
After 3 nights there, it was on to the Niagara Peninsula for more theatre and the wine region. We were somewhat taken aback by having to drive along the Queen Elizabeth Way to access the area, this being a 6 lane highway jammed with trucks, headed for Buffalo. We found that Niagara on the Lake had nothing as crass as a campground, so we had to camp 35 km away. We saw Me and My Girl the day we arrived – beautifully staged and lots of fun. Of course, being in this area for the first time, we had to visit Niagara Falls and take the obligatory boat ride, not on the Maid of the Mist which now only runs from the US side. We had been warned about how tacky the town is but were quite unprepared for the reality of its vulgarity and unashamed garishness. For all that, however, there was a lovely unspoiled park that runs along the Canadian side of the Niagara River with lots of walking/cycling paths and elegant houses on the other side. This was such a contrast to the immediate Falls area!
We had to spend time exploring the Welland Canal (joining Lakes Ontario and Erie) and saw several boats going through the locks. We also wanted to see the wineries we have been reading about in Beppi’s column in the Globe. We took some time to explore Niagara on the Lake, reputed to be Canada’s prettiest town, and it certainly lived up to its reputation. We have never seen so many flowers – in hanging baskets, containers and on islands in the middle of the street – all in peak condition, even toward the end of September. The high spot of our week of culture was indubitably the production of Saint Joan, starring Sara Topham from Victoria, whose proud parents were sitting in the front row. It was one of the best theatre experiences that we have ever had. The whole week was a wonderful break from driving and was made all the better by the fact that we had lovely warm weather the entire time.
Now we are headed west and the sheer size of Ontario gives us a better appreciation of Terry Fox’s achievement.