For this week’s final post, we’re moving a little farther away from Waterloo Region and our previous community profile on New Hamburg.  Perth County is our immediate neighbour to the west and composes one of Chestnut Park West’s five territories of operation.  Situated in the southern portion of Perth, you’ll find the county seat of Stratford, Ontario – a city of approximately 34,000 residents, and a past winner of Nations in Bloom’s ‘Prettiest City in the World” title.

Founded in the 1830s, Stratford had grown to a population of over 9,000 by the year 1885, when it was first incorporated as a city.  The railways had arrived nearly 30 years earlier, and the construction of a major repair yard for the Grand Trunk Railway provided a major boost to local industry – growing the population significantly.  In 1909, a 182,000 square foot locomotive repair facility was opened in the city, a concern which eventually grew to employ nearly 40% of Stratford’s population.  Surrounded by the fertile lands which are characteristic of Southwestern Ontario, agriculture has always been a major component of the economy too, with dairy, hog farming and mixed produce forming the backbone of the sector.  As time passed and Ontario’s network of roads and highways was improved, Stratford’s central location between Kitchener-Waterloo and London has made the city an easily accessible destination for visitors and commuters.

Today, Stratford is best known as a regional centre for the arts, with the prestigious Stratford Festival serving as an annual showcase for Shakespearean drama and having attracted some of the biggest names in live theatre over its past nearly 70 years.  Performers have included such names as Alec Guinness, Christopher Walken, Maggie Smith, William Hutt, Christopher Plummer, William Shatner and more.  The festival brings in millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of visitors into the city every year, and demand for hospitality services has led to a proliferation of fine restaurants, cafes, shops, bed and breakfasts and boutique hotels in and around the downtown.

This combination of upscale amenities and the inherent beauty and charm of the city has made Stratford a destination for day trippers and overnighters from across Southern Ontario and the United States in its own right.  The Avon River cuts through the middle of town, straddled by parks and maturely treed streets with beautiful century homes in abundance.  The Shakespearean Gardens, dating from the 1930s and just off Highway 8 (around the corner from the main drag), are a perfectly manicured oasis in the middle of the city, and a throwback to aristocratic English gardens from the late middle ages.

As Stratford’s reputation for beauty and culture have grown over the past decades, it’s little wonder that demand for real estate in its more desirable central and established neighbourhoods has seen prices surge.  However, in keeping with the trend seen in other smaller towns and cities which are scattered across our part of Southwestern Ontario, housing costs in Stratford remain by-and-large more affordable than alternatives in places such as the GTA, Hamilton, London and Kitchener-Waterloo.  Here at Chestnut Park West, our agents have been noticing a big increase in inquiries from our clients about properties in and around Stratford, either as primary residences or investment opportunities.  This boost in interest is also fueled, as we’ve noted before, by this past year’s motivation for many families to seek more space and a lower cost of living outside of major urban centres.

While the pandemic has exacted a heavy toll on Stratford’s predominant entertainment and hospitality industries, the charm of the city and the fond memories made there in years past by thousands of visitors should enable it to rebound quickly once things return to normal.

Article originally written by Lee Quaile, March 12, 2021