Day two of our hire car dawned so-so, weather-wise, but we decided to stick to our plan of heading out west to Stratford, famous for its Shakespeare Festival. We decided to check out another site on the way, just in case it proved interesting. It did …
Waterloo Region Museum and Doon Heritage Village
The Waterloo Region Museum is open year round, but the Doon Heritage Village is only open for the warm weather season, starting 1 May. It’s a huge, brightly coloured museum so we found it pretty easily and headed on in. It focuses on “the collecting, preservation and documentation” of the local community’s material heritage. Apparently, its collection of local history artifacts dates back to 1912 through the efforts of the Waterloo Historical Society, which donated its collection to the museum in 1960. Today, its collection of artifacts and buildings is, their website says, one of the largest community museum collections in Ontario. We could believe it – it’s an impressive place, and a surprising find. (Interestingly, Waterloo is the home of BlackBerry!)
We spent all our time in the Doon Heritage Village part, described by them as “a picturesque 60 acre living history village that shows visitors what life was like in the Waterloo Region in 1914”. They apparently chose 1914 for a couple of reasons: the population started to grow significantly in the region from the early 1900s; and 1914 marked a time of change. The explainers did an excellent job of explaining the impact of these changes.
The village comprises mostly original buildings, moved from their original, mostly local, locations. Some houses and barns dated back to the 1820s and 1830s. Some, like the General Store, had seen many uses over their lives and had been modified by the museum to reflect an appropriate 1914 use.
We loved the explainers, who all seemed to be twenty-somethings, which is quite different from our experience in similar historical villages around the world. They knew the history and had a practical understanding of the traditions, so much so that we ended up spending twice the time we had expected, which rather cut short our time in Stratford, but none of us were sorry. That’s the serendipity of travel isn’t it? You never quite know whether something will truly interest you or be just another site. We loved the young women who told us about the particular families in the houses they were “explaining”. And, for example, the young blacksmith who described the shoeing of a horse in great detail, explained the impact of ready-made horse-shoes on blacksmithing, and demonstrated making a metal s-hook. Similarly, the “tailor” told us about the impact of ready-made clothes. The tailor not only took on mending and alterations as a major part of the job, but also ran the post office.
This is a Mennonite area. They started coming to the region in 1799, many via Lancaster County in the USA where we have come across them and the Amish before. The explainers in the Mennonite house told us that there were three main things about Mennonites: they are anabaptists, don’t bear arms, and don’t use modern technologies. Of course, today, not all Mennonites follow these closely, particularly regarding technology.
It was great that Hannah, who adored the Little house on the prairie series of books as a child, enjoyed it as much as we did.
This little town, a couple of hours west of Toronto, is, our guide-book says, known worldwide for its annual Shakespeare Festival (now called the Stratford Festival). Hannah reckons the Utah Shakespeare Festival has the most famous Globe Theatre replica! And we know that Oregon has a well-regarded annual Shakespeare Festival too. How great that the bard remains so popular.
Anyhow, our first stop was lunch as it was nearly 2pm by the time we got there, having picked up Hannah at 9.30am. We wanted a light lunch as we were planning a special farewell dinner in the evening. Yelp/UrbanSpoon/TripAdvisor came up with a place called Boomers that served poutine with goat’s cheese. As we hadn’t tried poutine we thought this would be it but, dang it, the place was closed on Sunday! Fortunately, a couple of doors down was a cute looking little place called the County Food Company, that had a range of very fresh looking food, including a kale salad that Hannah pounced on. The service was friendly but a bit vague. However, we all got pretty much what we wanted and were fortified for a quick potter around Stratford.
But my, it was rather chilly whenever the wind came up which it did too often. We did however, have a quick look at their Shakespeare Garden, walked along the river and saw the white swans and their Globe Theatre, the impressive Victorian-era Town Hall, and the eclectic-looking Armories building from 1905.
We could see, though, what Emmy meant when she talked about having picnics by the river during festival time. It was very pretty along the river and the town is lovely. But, we had a two-hour drive to get back for dinner – and, anyhow, we were cold!
We dropped the car back at our airbnb, and got the streetcar to Origin (a “high energy global food bar”!) which is owned by one of Toronto’s top chefs, Claudio Aprile. It was Sunday night and busy. The surfaces were pretty hard, and the music was somewhat loud in that way of hip restaurants, but surprisingly we could hear each other perfectly fine.
Before mentioning the food, we must comment about the servers. Several had the most impossibly narrow hips we’d ever seen. We wondered if you had to be “hiplessly” hip to get a job there!
The menu was mostly of the share tapas style with the menu divided into sections like Raw, Chilled, Hot, Mozzarella Bar, etc. Len and Sue got dishes to share, while Hannah went her own way, though of course there was tasting all around. Hannah’s Bay Scallop ceviche of Bay with mango and coconut, and served with plantain chips, won the prize for the most dramatic presentation. Sue and Len chose one of the mozzarella dishes as we’re not sure we’ve ever tried real buffalo mozzarella before. It was mild and lovely. We also had a raw dish, the Japanese-style Tuna Salad with spicy ponzu dressing. Overall, excluding dessert, we had 6 dishes between us ranging in price from CAD7 to 17.
Hannah continued her plan of trying cocktails, and again talked Sue into joining her. Sue did enjoy her “French 75” which was served in a small flute and contained Tanqueray gin, lemon, sugar syrup and Prosecco. Sue worried about sweetness, but the syrup was restrained and she enjoyed the cocktail. Hannah chose one that came in a long glass, which disappointed her. She wanted hers in a sophisticated glass too! So when she ordered her second cocktail she first asked what sort of glass it would come in. Marie Antoinette was the answer, which filled the sophisticated bill perfectly!
We all had dessert, with Hannah and Len pronouncing Sue’s meringue with lemon curd and citrus the best. She had to concur. Hannah’s dulce de leche was a little heavy but looked pretty, with little frozen “beads” of raspberry covering the top.
It was a fascinating meal on which to end our two weeks of visiting Hannah in a lovely and lively city – albeit one that we wish hadn’t been quite so cold. We’d recommend Toronto to anyone who hasn’t been there.
The slideshow …
Some video from our Doon Historic Village tour …
And this is a very important ritual, at all dinners …