Honestly, we didn't know Stratford, Ontario is the home of the teen sensation Justin Bieber until we visited the Stratford Tourism Office on Downie Street, just a block or so from the Avon Theater. There, in a glass case in the Tourism Office, is an Epiphone electric guitar bearing the flowery signature of one Justin Bieber.
"He was born and raised here," the tourism official said. "We've got fans from all over the world coming here to see where he grew up." Right then a young fan cozied up to the display, her face all aglow.
Next to the guitar case is a big poster of the star himself. If you're a fan, there is a map of the places where Justin used to hang out: the steps of the Avon theater where his first YouTube video was shot of him playing the acoustic guitar and singing a song; the Skate Park where Justin worked on his skate boarding skills; the YMCA where he played basketball; the Long & McQuade musical instrument store; and Boston Pizza, a place he still visits on return trips to his hometown.
In all, the Justin's Stratford map lists 24 sites. You can get more information on Justin's Stratford by searching for the term: visitstratford.
Justin's worldwide fame aside, another world-famous artist is also renowned here: William Shakespeare. Not that Shakespeare slept here or anything like that, but the renowned Stratford Festival puts on live Shakespeare theater performances every year in five different theaters. It all started in 1953 when the town honored the playwright, who grew up in Stratford-upon-Avon, England.
The 2014 season includes such Shakespeare as King Lear, and A Midsummer Night's Dream, plus other performances, such as Man of La Mancha and Alice Through the Looking Glass.
It is the best of Broadway and London in this artsy town in the middle of pastoral Ontario.
If you travel there in search of either Justin or William, you will find Stratford on the Ontario map, pretty much equal distance between Toronto and Detroit. In fact, if you live in either city, you can take advantage of the Stratford Festival's one-day tour bus that delivers you to town for shopping, sightseeing, and the festival, then returns you home the same day. Check the Stratford Festival's website for more information.
In a full day, you can take in a two-hour play, see the sights, enjoy a good meal, and realize you are enjoying one of the precious gems of the travel world. Overnight accommodations are plentiful.
The Britain of Shakespeare can indeed be found just outside the shopping district at the west end of the Avon River, where spectacular British-manicured gardens bear the name Shakespearean Gardens.
When it comes to shopping, it is more notable than a town of this size could normally claim. There are three local coffee specialty shops, two shops selling varieties of olive oil, six book stores, some of them selling their wares on the sidewalk, three chocolate shops, a cluster of unique restaurants, and two tea sommelier shops.
One interesting note is the existence of pay phones, pretty much a thing of the past. Yet here, half of the travelers come from Michigan and the United States, and once in Canada, cell phone service either doesn't exist or is frightfully expensive.
Another interesting experience is feeding the swans and ducks that inhabit the banks of the Avon River. The Tourism Office sells bags of kernel corn for feeding the birds, and a joy it is, watching them flock to the treats you throw.
Until this trip, Stratford existed only in my mind as a haven for Shakespeare.
Now, I know there is more to it - the influence of the British Crown, the artsy European feel you get walking down the street, lots of sightseeing and shopping, and yes! - one Justin Bieber.
Stratford's a gem.