Stratford in the spring, before the renowned Stratford Festival theatre performances begin, has a different vibe. A slower easily strollable, dog-walking kind of vibe. And that’s what I did a lot during a two-day getaway to Stratford, Ontario, Canada with my 1.5-year-old pup who’s not a fan of leash walking. And that’s why we ended up at the leash-free park … there’s a good one in Stratford.
But first activity is shopping along Ontario and adjacent streets – just outside the door of the pet-friendly Queen’s Inn, our accommodation of choice when traveling to Stratford with the dog.
Dog walkable Stratford, Ontario
Downtown Stratford is a boutique shopaholics dream, even one with a crazy Sprocker (Springer/Cocker Spaniel cross) at the end of a leash lunging at every bird she sees. And there are birds. Everywhere and anywhere.
My dog managed to calm herself just long enough to browse one dog-friendly bookstore: Fanfare Books (92 Ontario), iconic and a must-stop on every visit to Stratford. I’ve been to Stratford many times, but this is the first time I’ve taken the dog along.
Recently, I’ve been attempting to train my second dog, Victoria, after losing my long-time travel buddy in 2020 at the age of 15. She’s hasn’t yet to master the fine art of shopping, change rooms, and general leash walking, but we’re practicing … finally … mostly places fairly close to home.
What better place to continue travelling with the dog than very, very walkable Stratford, Ontario?
Stratford, Ontario comes alive April to October when the Stratford Festival runs shows on all five stages, day and evening and the town – at least the central core – teems with live theatre goers.
The Stratford Festival
For some, the Stratford Festival is an annual tradition and since 1953, the Shakespearian-focused festival has fostered the careers of many well-known actors including Christopher Plummer, Lorne Greene, and William Shatner. Even Maggie Smith and Christopher Walken have graced the stage.
(Fun fact: Justin Bieber was never on the Festival stage, but he did spend a few summers playing his guitar for spare change on the steps of the Avon Theatre).
Dogs, of course, don’t go to the theatre, unless they are service animals. But, check out this uber cute photo that garnered a lot of internet attention of service dogs in training practicing at a Stratford Festival rehearsal in 2019.
As amazing as the festival is, visiting Stratford in the spring turned out to be a great idea. Off season – November to April – accommodations in Stratford are cheaper, streets are quieter, and dog parks and walking trails are populated by local pups and their people.
Where to spoil your dog in Stratford, Ontario
The Barkery dog bakery
Admittedly, I almost missed the Barkery because I almost didn’t walk far enough past the Avon Theatre (after trying to get my dog to do her best Bieber busking poise).
An hour before closing my dog and I found ourselves in the Barkery (4 George Street West), selecting some Victoria-approved all-natural treats. Well, my dog approved of every sample. So, we went home with a bag of salmon crunchies and cheese and bacon treats. Eye-catching is the glass display of seasonal decorated canine cookies, along with assorted dehydrated options, peanut butter dog popsicle, and three aisles of toys and novelties.
However, if you want to spoil yourself, go to Lady Glaze Doughnuts (35 Erie Street) and pick up an evening indulgence (because what’s a hotel room stay without decadent snacks) and next morning breakfast (with hotel coffee). Lady Glaze doughnut flavours changed monthly, but these gourmet doughnuts are worth the splurge, because you’ll be walking them off with the dog later, right?
Where to run the dog in Stratford, Ontario
Leash-free Park: Stratford Dog Park
Stratford might have the second-best dog park we’ve encountered yet, and that’s saying a lot because leash-free dog park is on our list every where we visit – and along the way on every road trip, What’s the first best, you ask? Still Fergus Forest Dog Park in Kemptville, Ontario we found on a trip to Ottawa. But my dog Victoria is having a great time researching the ‘dog-parks of Ontario’ guidebook fodder – or at least running through a lot of dog parks.
The Stratford leash-free dog park (159 Packham Road) is outside of the downtown core and near public recreation sports parks, so there’s plenty of free parking and public washrooms nearby. And open seven days a week, all day, all year. There’s even running water during warmer months.
The day we went the to leash-free park, it was muddy, but my pup didn’t notice. Instead, she played with a Mastiff-cross pup in the ‘small and vulnerable’ side of the entirely enclosed park. (It’s also the first time I’ve wiped out in a dog park – in the mud). Then we went through the connecting gate to the large fenced dog park – easily the size of a soccer field. Both sections have run-in shelters and seats for people.
But Victoria’s favourite part was there’s a third densely-wooded fenced dog park through another set of gates – all three parks are join with gates. A walking trail (albeit muddy today) surrounds a central woodland with creek flowing through. Did Victoria get wet? You bet. And we stayed until she shivered – and then it was time to wash off before returning to the very British Queen’s Inn, exactly what I visualize when I think ‘Stratford.’
Where to wash the dog in Stratford, Ontario
Self Wash Dog Wash: Petvalu
Before we can go back to carpeted stairs, upholstered wing-back chairs, and plush comforters at the Queens Inn in the heart of downtown Stratford, we needed a bath. We both did – since I also fell in the mud and had to clean my coat. But my dog REALLY needed a bath because she was covered in stinky mud, creek water, and a remarkable sense of satisfaction.
Most PetValu outlets have the dirty-dog-while-travelling solution: self-wash stations for $10 per wash. They provide the water, shampoo, towels, dryer, and final spritz (ideal for smelling good at the hotel). You provide the elbow grease. Stratford’s newest PetValu is at 581 Huron Street – not far from the dog park, fortunately, and The Perth Historic Museum. (More on that further down).
Where to stay with the dog in Stratford, Ontario
Dog-friendly Inn: Queens Inn
The Queens Inn (161 Ontario Street) is iconic, pet-friendly and exactly what I visualize a British Inn to look like, though my vision of Britain evolved after reading a steady stream of Victoria novels dubbed ‘Brit Lit.’ I’m sure there’s a contemporary Britain out there, but not in here: The Queen’s Inn is classic – and it’s pet-friendly, which is surprising considering the amount of carpet, upholstery and ornate wallpaper.
For more than 160 years, the Queen’s Inn has served downtown Stratford, within easy walking distance of downtown shops, the Avon river walk, and all three theatres open during The Stratford Festival. To add to the retro charm: you can’t book directly online but must call, and credit cards are still processed by hand via a card impression on a carbon paper receipt.
At the Queen’s Inn, we stayed in a dog-friendly room on the third floor – there are 32 rooms in total – near the end of the hallway, which was idea because less floor traffic meant less reaction from my young pup. There’s a small fridge in the room, which is handy. However, running up and down three flights for early morning and late-night pee breaks was less convenient than when we stayed in Grand Bend (see here).
Victoria was remarkably controlled, stopping at the front desk each pass to get dog treats from staff. An added bonus at the Inn is the English-style Boar’s Head Pub downstairs – 16 brews on tap you can carry to your room. Summer adds an outdoor patio, which I assume is dog-friendly since the rest of the inn is (and Ontario has updated is provincial laws).
Note that right beside the Queen’s Inn, across the parking lot, is the Feed-All Pet Centre (211 Ontario Street) if you’ve forgotten anything and a groomer inside the store, if self-wash isn’t your thing and there’s appointments available.
The Parlour Inn (101 Wellington Street), owned by Choice Hotels, is also a vintage property within walking distance of the Festival Theatre and water front that is pet-friendly, but for an extra cost.
Where to walk the dog in Stratford, Ontario
The Queen’s Inn is a few blocks from the likely most photographed feature in Stratford: the miles of paved walking paths along the Avon River banks. Off season, you’ll meet up with other dog walkers. When the Festival is running, these paths are crowded with out-of-town visitors because walking the river banks before a show is almost as important as attending the theatre.
Dog walk along the Avon River banks
In the summer, lush gardens dot the landscape and white trumpet swans do the same in the water of the Avon River. Stratford’s swans are likely some of the world’s most photographed swans. Luckily, my bird dog was there too early in the season to meet up with one.
However, from the Festival Theatre, the walking path leads through a sparse forest, past a warm-weather water fountain, bridge-like coloured staircase, and low wall painted with butterfly wings that appears to be the high for Instagrammable dog photos.
A short walk away is the Stratford art gallery and sculpture park
Located in the city’s former pump house, the Gallery Stratford (54 Romeo Street South) public art gallery is one of the oldest in the province having opened during Canada’s centennial celebrations in 1967. Clearly, the gallery itself is not pet-friendly. However, the grounds are more expansive than the interior.
There is usually a temporary outdoor exhibition or two on the gallery property every few months.
Plus, the pond-like water reservoir, beside the gallery is surrounded by sculpture creating a circular walking opportunity. If you have a water-motivated dog like mine, you’ll have to hold tight (leashes required here) to avoid a pond dive. From here, there’s a walking path back through the trees, or over a wooden bridge leading to more trails all interloping.
You can do a lot of walking in Stratford, Ontario.
The Stratford Perth Museum historical walking trails
Located on the ‘edge’ of town (the city is growing closer and closer), The Stratford Perth Museum is a public gallery and archive of the region’s history – military, train lore, educational artifacts, and a tribute to the establishment of the theatrical Stratford Festival that put this city on the cultural map.
Housed in an 1870 Victorian house that happened to be on the seven-acre property when the museum association purchased the land, The Stratford Perth Museum dedicates each floor is dedicated to a different regionally-themed exhibition, including travelling ones and a temporary highlight: the Justin Bieber Exhibit (open until the end of 2022).
Yes, the Biebs grew up in Stratford, Ontario, busked on the steps of the Avon Theatre, and still has family here. Many of the artifacts are personal items on loan for Bieber’s mother and grandparents. New additions are keepsakes from Justin and Hailey’s wedding.
Clearly, this isn’t a tour your pet dog can do with you; however, it’s the outside of the building that will interest dog travellers. Surrounding the museum is a 1.5-kilometre trail system running past a storm water pond, beehives that produce the honey in the gift store, and several artifacts and educational signs guiding walkers – and leashed dogs – through the historical development of the region.
And there’s an outdoor stage ideal for taking a pic of the star of the show: your pup. You might need a few curtain calls.
Travel to Stratford, Ontario With Your Dog Travel Guide:
4275 Huron Road (Highway 8, west of Stratford)
Open 10 am to 4 pm, seven days a week
Admission is $7
The Gallery Stratford and outdoor sculpture park
54 Romeo Street South, Stratford, Ontario
Admission by donation. Sculpture gardens open daily dawn to dusk.
Avon River Walking paths and trails
Complete outdoor trail map here: Stratford Trail Map
Dog-friendly Accommodations in Stratford
161 Ontario Street, Stratford, Ontario
32-rooms in a historic inn along with the Boar’s Head English pub
101 Wellington Street, Stratford, Ontario
Quality Inn and Conference Centre
1144 Ontario Street, Stratford, Ontario
Maximum of two dogs per room up to 80 pounds $45 fee
Dog-friendly Stores and Services
PetValu Self-wash Dog Bath
581 Huron Street, Stratford, Ontario
$10 for walk-in self-wash dog bath
The Stratford Leash-free Dog Park
159 Packham Road, Stratford, Ontario
Double gated entrance, three separate fenced play areas interconnected by gates, and plenty of free parking
92 Ontario Street, Stratford, Ontario
4 George Street West, Stratford, Ontario
Writer bio: Sherri Telenko has been a professional writer for 30 years and travel writer for the last 20. She’s a member of TMAC (Travel Media Association of Canada) and Dog Writers Association of America, and travels almost weekly with her canine companion.