The settlement of Stratford began with the surveying of the Huron Road by the Canada Company in 1828. In December of that year and January of 1829, their agent, William "Tiger" Dunlop, planted his surveyor's stakes around the area that was to become this beautiful city. The Canada Company had been formed in 1824, when the government of Upper Canada was granted a million acres of land to settle. The district was known as the Huron Tract and included what is now Stratford and most of Perth County.
Stratford itself began to take shape in 1832 when Thomas Mercer Jones, a Canada Company director, gave a picture of William Shakespeare to William Sargint, the owner of the Shakespeare Hotel. A stone marks the site of this hotel, near 70 Ontario Street. Jones gave the village the name of Stratford and the creek, which had been known as Little Thames, was renamed the Avon River. In 1834 surveyor John MacDonald created the town plan. He placed the geographic center of town at the point where four townships met, not far from where Erie and Ontario Streets intersect today. He then created four main roads radiating from the center and three of these roads were named for the Great Lakes to which they lead, Huron, Erie and Ontario.
In 1853 Perth County decided to separate from the Huron district, of which it had always been a part. A condition of separation was that Stratford become the county seat, with a courthouse, jail and registry office. The next year Stratford was incorporated as a village, and in 1859 it became a town.
The year 1856 signalled the arrival of the Grand Trunk Railway and the Buffalo and Lake Huron Line, beginning Stratford's long history as a major rail centre. In 1871 a locomotive repair shop came to town; it was expanded in 1889 and 1906. The Grand Trunk amalgamated with the Buffalo and Lake Huron Railway and in 1923 was taken over by the Canadian National Railway. The CNR was a significant contributor to the town's economy until the closure of the shops in 1964.
Another major economic sector was the furniture industry. In 1886, the year after Stratford was incorporated as a city, George McLagan created jobs in the furniture industry. These positions attracted prospective workers to the area in the early 1890's, a time of economic hardship in other parts of the country. With corporate success came industrial dispute. In 1933 a general strike, which started with furniture workers and chicken pluckers, became so unruly that the army, along with its tanks, was called in to put a stop to the strike. The strike was a major event in Canadian industrial history and is the subject of playwright James Reaney's play Kingwhistle!
In 1904 the Parks Board was established. It created Upper Queen's Park, a professionally designed horticultural system around the area where the Festival Theatre now stands. Another major accomplishment came between 1905 and 1912, when the Board and citizens dissuaded the Canadian Pacific Railway from laying its tracks along the Avon River. Stratford's signature swans were introduced to the park system in 1918. And, in 1936, R. Thomas Orr, an original member of the Parks Board, succeeded in having the Shakespearean Gardens created.
It wasn't until 1953 that Tom Patterson, a Stratford-born reporter for Maclean's Magazine, and a group of local supporters opened the Stratford Festival. As the CNR shops closed and the success of the furniture industry waned, the Festival helped make tourism a significant industry for the city. Today Stratford has a diversified economy featuring manufacturing, finance and service-related businesses.