In a setting of six and a half acres of tranquil, manicured grounds just steps across the lawn from the renowned Stratford Festival theatre and the historic town, The Bruce, owned by Jennifer Birmingham is a lovely local surprise. During theatre season when celebrities and notables visit; this, I’m told, is where they stay, and with good reason.
There is however, a method in my madness as I opt for a Winter’s Tale… a mid January visit when the theatres are dark. I’m keen to see if the rumours are true, (or much ado about nothing), that the opening of The Bruce makes Stratford the ideal close-to-home getaway, regardless of the season.
Named after the owner’s dear papa, The Bruce is Stratford’s only top-drawer hotel—although it’s not yet officially designated, I’d say it’s pretty darn close to 5-star with local flavour and lots of little service extras factoring into its modern, fully-accessible design.
Beautiful period costumes and artwork can be found prominently displayed in hallways and public spaces. All of the costumes throughout the hotel come from the Stratford Wardrobe Warehouse which houses every piece worn since the Festival’s inception. For instance, the dress worn by actress Patricia Idlette in 1978 to play Phoebe in As You Like It sits in the lobby.
You’ll like the theatre library where you can immerse yourself in the world of Shakespeare or learn the intricacies of theatrical design, the take-a-book-leave-a-book library, games area, the lovely swimming pool, massage room and a well-equipped gym.
The public space chandeliers, forty-pound front door pulls, bathroom amenity plates and some of the wallpaper and artwork, actually came from the original Four Seasons hotel in Toronto. The Bruce is also home to over half a million tiny tiles (841 per square foot), each designed and hand-laid by owner and representing more than a thousand hour labour of love.
Taking care of business
Each of the 25 chandelier-adorned rooms is named after well-known characters from one of Shakespeare’s plays and decorated in calming earth tones. And, delightfully, in a world of reduced size hotel bathrooms, The Bruce boasts spacious washrooms with separate vanity areas, colourful mosaic bands around deep soaker tubs, and oversized accessible showers. Beds and bedding, a comfortable seating area and patio doors, most of which open onto a private outdoor space, all contribute to a tasteful experience. Everything seems brand spanking new even though the hotel has been open since 2014. It’s simply as we like it.
Should it be a rainy day, I’m told that staff will arrange a scavenger hunt that takes you on a wild goose chase throughout the building in search of Shakespearean pictures and quotes. There is even a space where younger guests are invited to borrow a bedtime book and enjoy a house-made cookie delivered just for them. (Adults are invited to use the 24-hour complimentary cookie hotline whenever the hankering hits!) And, a short wander will bring you to the business centre and plenty of arm chairs in window bays to sit, read or, if you must, work.
Jonathan and Hani
Dining at the Bruce is special with famed Executive Chef Jonathan Gushue taking brilliant, young Chef de Cuisine Hani Firin under his wing. Hani is deeply personal about the food she creates. The textures and temperatures of her dishes show a hidden intimacy “food saves me daily” says Firin. “It keeps the demons away for me and I only want to give my diners a mouthful or moment of the same respite.” A chef who passionately connects and understands the earth, the location and the farm where each morsel of food comes from, Hani works her magic to love ingredients together to create an intensely positive dining experience.
Can’t get too much of a good thing
From the morning tea delivered to the room, the nightly fortune cookies on my pillow and the sweet treats that seem to pop up on my credenza all on their own, the guest experience couldn’t be better considered and curated.
Ask for maps for walking, running, cycling and historical self-guided tours at the front desk. They’ll even arrange theatre tickets for you as well. And, if you get the chance visit the Stratford Perth County Museum to learn more about the scandal/scam surrounding the steam car factory that occupied the Hotel’s grounds in the roaring 20’s era. And, last but not least, there’s also a tribute to Justin Bieber who hails from the town with a number of his awards and pieces of memorabilia on display for fans to enjoy.
Stratford: More than just the theatre
Known as the home of North America’s largest classical repertory theatre company, the Stratford Festival presents a dozen or more productions from April to November in four distinct venues.
However, as those in the know understand, the town of Stratford is a year round stay and play walkable gem with browsable boutiques, a collection of wonderful restaurants for all tastes and interesting local-lore museums. Just a 1.5-hour drive from Toronto with access to regular GO Train or Via Rail service, a stay at Stratford’s The Bruce is ideal for both a mid-week or weekend getaway.