Experiences reflect unique DNA of Ontario travel destinations

Stratford, Bayfield and Elora & Fergus think outside the box to engage visitors

Picture rappelling down a sheer rock wall to get to your table for a delicious dinner served on a beach beside a gorgeous winding river. How about taking in a one-of-a-kind concert from world-class musicians playing a bell about the size of a transport truck that replicates the sound of a carillon? Or maybe you’re the artsy type and want to get inspired by a stunning landscape — how about painting a sunset from a breathtaking perch on a bluff overlooking Lake Huron?

These are just a few of the incredible experiences visitors can enjoy this summer while exploring the tourism hotspot of southwestern Ontario, whether it’s on a day-trip from the Greater Toronto Area or a longer family vacation.

The communities of Stratford, Bayfield and Elora & Fergus have joined with the region’s tourism organization — RTO4 — as well as their local tourism partners to develop more than two dozen new activities designed to engage travellers and highlight the special qualities and attractions that make each of the three destinations unique.

“Today’s visitors are seeking out unique experiences that they want to share – often in real-time – with friends and family,” says David Peacock, RTO4 Chief Executive Officer. “The new experiences supported by the animation fund highlight each community’s unique assets and invite the visitor to participate in telling the story.”

Stratford, picturesque home to the world-renowned Stratford Festival, is hosting 15 new events and activities that capture its growing reputation as a cultural resort town. A small sample of the experiences include: 

  • The Stratford Summer Music Carillon, organized by Stratford Summer Music. World-class carillon performers will play 14 free concerts from Aug. 5-13 on a massive musical bell.
  • Ladies of the CNR, a full-length play presented by the Stratford Perth Museum and Martingale Vintage. The play will be performed at city hall from Sept. 28 to Oct. 4, featuring an interactive photobooth and newly curated CN exhibit.
  • Food for Thought Festival, hosted in collaboration by the Stratford Chefs’ School and the Stratford Writers Festival, Oct. 27-29.  The festival creates literary and culinary experiences where food is matched to an author’s readings. There will also be workshops, such as how to write a cookbook and the art of food photography.

About an hour’s drive from the GTA, tourism operators in Elora & Fergus have created several experiences to celebrate the town’s heritage and idyllic natural setting. Among them are:

  • River is Calling, an experience hosted by the Elora Centre for the Arts that celebrates the natural beauty of the Grand River through two exhibits during June, July and August, a paddle painting workshop and will end with a collaboration with Riverfest which will see Brad Copping carry his mosaic canoe to the Grand River where he will paddle it, take it out of the water and suspend it above the Riverfest stage for an evening concert on Aug. 19.
  • Twilight at Templin Gardens, a free musical event at the historical Templin Gardens on Wednesday evenings through July and August, featuring a live musical performance with local artists performing and storytelling about their lives in Elora and Fergus. The finale of the evening will be a Piper piping down the sun on the candle lit Templin Garden Stairs built in 1920.
  • Festival Faire, a free family-friendly event to be held on July 8. The new event celebrates Canada’s 150th anniversary, showcasing Elora and Fergus’ festivals and events, natural beauty, rich heritage, rural foundations, artists, artisans, entertainers, merchants, and local food and drink.

On the sandy shores of Lake Huron, about an hour’s drive of Stratford, visitors can discover the beautiful beach town of Bayfield. Several new activities developed this summer showcase the trendy town’s artistic side, as well as its incredible waterfront setting and marine heritage. Among them are:

  • Paint the Sunset, a way to celebrate the creativity of Bayfield, as well as its world-class sunsets, this experience will offer five activations throughout the summer providing the supplies and instructions for people to paint their own sunset keepsake. Four of the events will be painting on panels or rocks, and the fifth will be edible cookie painting.
  • Try #SUPRUNYOGA, a unique one-day event focusing on trying new activities, connecting to nature and growing a sense of a connected shoreline community.  This event will also include local food vendors, product market and an attempt at the Guinness World Record for the world’s largest stand-up paddleboard yoga session.  

Projects in all three communities were developed through RTO4’s Destination Animation Fund. The initiative offers business operators matching funds to create new or enhanced tourism offerings that showcase the destination’s agreed-upon core DNA. Visitors are encouraged to share their experiences through social networks. 

The initiative was first launched in 2016, providing $30,000 in matching funds for 10 projects in Stratford. Based on the success of its inaugural run, RTO4 and its tourism partners doubled the size of the fund to $60,000 in 2017 and expanded it to more communities to create experiences that reach an even wider audience. More information is available at www.animationfund.ca

About RTO4:

RTO4, one of 13 regional tourism offices established by the Ministry of Tourism Culture and Sport in the province of Ontario, provides leadership and support to a flourishing tourism economy in Huron, Perth, Waterloo and Wellington. RTO4 has been called the “petri dish of tourism development in North America” by the Canadian Tourism Commission, specifically because of its innovative, analytical and non-traditional approach to growing tourism and economic development.