STRATFORD, some 150km west of Toronto, is a likeable country town of thirty thousand people, which rises head and shoulders above its neighbours as the host of the Stratford Festival, originating in 1953 and now one of the most prestigious theatrical occasions in North America, attracting no fewer than half a million visitors every year. It only takes an hour or so to work out what is where in Stratford, beginning with the town’s downtown core, on and around the junction of Ontario and Downie streets, where a handsome set of nineteenth-century brick facades reach an idiosyncratic hiatus in the grandiose city hall, a brown-brick fiesta of cupolas, towers and limestone trimmings. The town is also bisected by the meandering Avon River, whose leafy banks are lined with immaculately maintained footpaths and overlooked by the largest of the town’s four theatres, the Festival Theatre.

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