Category Archives: Stratford, Ontario

A Sunday afternoon to remember…

Eleven years ago, when I was still living in Toronto, I had a very different relationship with food than I do now. I was a decent cook (nowhere near my mother’s calibre though), could follow a recipe, get a bit creative, enjoyed hosting dinner parties, and ensured that my family ate relatively well.

Then I moved to Stratford, and everything changed.

The first thing was the accessibility of fresh, local food from the Stratford’s Farmer’s Market. I was so used to shopping in grocery stores that seeing beautiful, natural, sometimes dirt encrusted vegetables were almost a novelty to me. I had of course been to the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto a number of times, but I lived uptown with no vehicle, and at that time, farmer’s markets weren’t nearly as prevalent in the urban centres as they are now. Through the Stratford Farmer’s Market, I learned how to talk to my farmers, ask questions, and forge relationships, because now they were my farmers; I supported them, they supported my family. Community.

Then I was introduced to Community Supported Agriculture models through Monforte Dairy and I decided to support these artisans directly with my dollars, supporting their businesses and my palate, and I became part of that community.

Soon after came the introduction of the Slow Food Market and the vendors with their delicious wares, and then my membership in Your Local Market Co-op, and further CSA support for Simple. Fish & Chips and Revel Caffé. And they became part of my community as well. Friends, restauranteurs, business partners, farmers, purveyors, educators. My shopping habits have changed so much that now my groceries are about 50% local, 50% grocery store. Way better than the 10% average the Ontario Agriculture movement asks of Ontarians.

Then these worlds coalesced with the birth of the Savour Stratford Culinary Festival. Hands down, bar none, my favourite weekend in Stratford. On principle, it’s the only event that I refuse to volunteer for in Stratford. My husband and my children all know, that is my weekend. I am off duty to eat, drink and be merry. Oh, and how I have done that, each and every year since its inception.

Now, my love affair with great food, good drink and passionate creators of great food experiences continues, grows and changes, just like all good romances. Now, it’s going through another renaissance through the experience of learning from some of the most creative, passionate chefs in South Western Ontario with the GE Café Chef Series, Celebrating Ontario’s Terroir.

In early January, I was invited by the Stratford Tourism Alliance team to participate in the inaugural event of the GE Chef Series, hosted by the Local Community Food Centre and Chef Aaron Linley of bijou restaurant. Knowing the exceptional experiences curated by the Savour Stratford team, I anticipated another immensely successful event and I was not disappointed.

The day began with an overview of the dinner party menu by Chef, who answered questions on the fly about sourcing food, talking to your butcher, and procuring artisanal items. This is the kind of knowledge that you can only really get by being with face to face with a Chef, especially one that celebrates the producers and artisans available in Perth County like Aaron does.

Chef Aaron Linley of bijou restaurant

It’s quite the experience, being surrounded by friends and strangers, all brought together by a desire to learn and immerse oneself in great food. For me, this kind of gathering is the essence of community.

After reviewing the menu, and teaching us some of the methods we would be using, we were split into teams to focus on each course of the meal. We were learning from Chef, as well as many others that were brought to the Local CFC that day not only about the equipment, but the way to properly prep our dishes, from timing to presentation.


On the menu for the day was:

Bacon laced scallions with romesco sauce and local goat cheese

 Course 1

Rainbow Trout ‘en papillote’ with cabbage, tomato and lime

Ancho Chili and cider marinated Quail with duck fat potatoes and Moroccan eggplant salad

Course 2 & 3

Green apple tart tartin with sour cream ice cream and caramel

 Course 4

Finally, it was time to eat and enjoy the fruits of our labour. Chef sat with us, and we all enjoyed each course as it was matched with a beautiful wines from Lailey Vineyard.

What more can I say about a perfect Sunday afternoon that blends community, knowledge and delicious food?

KSD & Chef Linley

Aaron Linley, the Chef/Owner of bijou restaurant in Stratford is a wonderful teacher, and the whole flow and presentation of the day was a production in grace by the team at the Local Community Food Centre and Stratford Tourism Alliance.

I’m not only grateful for the opportunity to have participated in the first of the series, but for the knowledge and insights shared by Chef. A Sunday afternoon to remember, indeed…


Community, commitment and crowd funding

Originally posted on the MaRS blog on September 25, 2012.

If I were to tell you that a successful female business owner who grew her core business product by 200% in her first year, and whose overall business experienced growth of 136% in that first year, went to her bank for a $20,000 leaseholder loan and was told that she needed to have her husband act as a co-signer, you’d probably think this was a story from 1955. Sadly, this true tale took place less than six months ago.

Continue reading

What will it take?

Last night, Stratford’s Avonova group hosted a panel discussing “Doing Tech in Stratford: Why or Why not?” The guest panelists spoke to the merits and challenges of establishing a technology business or career in Stratford, Ontario versus other centres like Kitchener-Waterloo, London or Toronto.

Our panelists were:

  • Gary Wreford, VP, Central Processing Technology, Scotiabank, heads the bank’s worldwide IT services from Stratford.
  • Tim Ellis, Chief Operating Officer of Waterloo’s Accelerator Centre, a world-renowned, award-winning centre for cultivation of technology entrepreneurship, and
  • Jason Clarke, a Web and Social Media Content Creator (videographer) for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and recent émigré from London, Ontario where he founded the Short Film Showcase.

Moderated by yours truly, our panelists brought their very diverse perspectives to the conversation, yet overwhelmingly they agreed on the following most salient points:


  • Strength of our brand: Stratford’s brand is very strong and evokes awareness of creativity, culture and arts. This distinguishes the city from other centres (i.e. K-W is noted for being a high tech hub and London is noted for its impact on the Life Sciences).
  • Creative & Content: Stratford is in a unique position to highlight its talent base and its ability to generate world-renowned content. We should focus on what makes us different from other centres and not try to duplicate what’s going on elsewhere.
  • University of Waterloo Stratford Campus and the Stratford Institute: the presence of these two institutions fares incredibly well for Stratford, bringing a global focus to our city and shoring up our image as a world-class city where anything is possible.
  • Relationships: Stratford’s champions range from our Governor-General, corporate leaders (OpenText, RIM), and provincial and federal political representatives. Those relationships are not only based on goodwill, but on well versed strategic planning and investment in ideas that will put us on the global stage in yet another realm.
  • History: We have a history of being innovative; the Stratford Shakespeare Festival started in a tent…and grew. The same is expected of our push to be considered one of Canada’s premier digital media hubs for innovation and entrepreneurialism.
  • Leadership: Our municipal leadership is responsible for putting Stratford in the enviable position that it is in currently. Our ability to present smart leadership to our closest communities and the world at large will continue to bring opportunities to the city.
  • Our Digital Renaissance and Infrastructure: We have the technology in place to support new businesses; that’s the easy part. Pushing forward on our bid for the world’s most Intelligent Community continues to put Stratford on the global map and reinforces our commitment to the ideals of what constitutes an intelligent city.


  • Attracting and Keeping Talent: Stratford needs to find a way to keep the 25-35 year old demographic here, rather than watching the brain drain to our larger centres. Providing life experiences (“there’s nothing to do”) and social outlets is paramount here.
  • Ambassadors: “Stratford is a friendly town, but it’s hard to make a friend.” Finding ways to connect new residents to the city life and enable social connections is essential to ensuring that new residents don’t feel ostracized and isolated.
  • Incubator Centre: creation of an Incubator Centre will support entrepreneurs, instill loyalty and set the foundation for future innovation and business opportunities that stay here in Stratford.

Many of our audience members shared their stories as to why they chose Stratford and what has kept them here, growing their businesses and establishing family roots here. The clear message from last night was that our success will come from looking at the city experience holistically. Providing support and opportunities for businesses directly related to technology, as well as providing outlets for socializing and community engagement will take a concerted effort. Achieving this state will come from the collaborative effort of all parts of our city, and not just city leaders.

Our sincerest thanks to Gary, Tim and Jason, for sharing their perspectives and ideas with our audience. 

Like Finds Like

On Monday, September 19, 2001, I attended The Marketplace Conference hosted by the Small Business Community Network at The Museum in Kitchener, Ontario. I was participating as an audience member, but I was also vying for the title of Social Media Idol. During the competition segment of the day, all contestants were asked one question and the question that came to me was “how has social media impacted your every day?”

Although I express myself easily on Twitter in those 140 character limits, to share just what kind of impact Twitter has had on my life, I want to take the time here to explain just how important this medium is to me. So, to paraphrase my own answer (somewhat), I share this…

Social media, Twitter especially, has had a profound impact on my life. I don’t use that word lightly. It has been tangible, positive and hugely influential, on both a personal and a professional level.

When my family and I first moved to Stratford, Ontario, I tried many of the traditional routes to engage more in the community. I joined a book club, a writing circle, participated in photography classes at the Gallery Stratford, joined political groups, invited couples over for dinner; but ingratiating ourselves into our new community was a slow and not very successful process. Stratford’s a small town in many ways and it seemed that everybody had enough friends already. I was flummoxed. I mean, my husband and I are nice people; we’re pretty engaging and have a wide range of interests. Surely people would want to make the time to get to know us better? It was hard not to take it personally.

Slowly, very slowly, our social circle did grow, and some of our friends from those early years have grown into being good friends to us still, but it wasn’t until I started to engage heavily in Twitter did mine and my family’s whole experience in Stratford change, dramatically.

Feeling passionate about the city we adopted as our hometown, I was eager to share all of the amazing things happening in the city with a greater audience, so I tweeted and retweeted everything and anything to do with Stratford, and I did it a lot. After a few months, I received one of my first #FollowFriday recommendations from a London, Ontario local called @late2game. It resonated so deeply with me that I remember it almost word for word: “If you want to know anything about Stratford, you should follow @karensd”.

Wow! I was SO honoured! I realized just then how powerful Twitter was for me. I was influencing people in London and my online reputation was growing.

My relationships in Stratford were growing and changing, almost exponentially too. I was meeting people from right across the city and the county that were interested in and moved by the same things I was; foodies, arts and culture, activism, politics, community building and of course, social media. The people that I call friends now I would not have been able to know on such an intimate level had it not been for Twitter opening up the avenues of dialogue and giving us the opportunity to find our “likeness” and to get to know one another better. Neither the Ignite Stratford or Social Media Breakfast Stratford events would be anywhere near as successful as they have been had it not been for Twitter and it the outreach that it enables.

At the same time, my community was also growing in Kitchener-Waterloo and Guelph. I was learning about events like Ignite Waterloo and being introduced to people that I would never have known of otherwise. Facebook was still rather insular a few years ago, not nearly as open as it is now with the advent of Fan Pages and Events being so well integrated into calendars and news streams. Twitter was my conduit to these amazing people that were doing things I was interested in and who were creating them, actually making them happen.


I’ve been calling Twitter “the warmest handshake you’ll ever experience”. It’s a reference to my old sales days, when you’re looking for a “warm referral”; someone that knows you, likes you and is willing to introduce you to another potential customer.

I realized the power of Twitter when I attended that first Ignite Waterloo event. I was early and planted myself in the seats at The Museum and started tweeting. The organizers had one of the first Twitter walls I had seen up to that point, so when I tweeted that I was excited for the night to begin, a few moments later, I heard someone say out loud, “Ya, me too Karen!” I turned to see this guy that looked familiar to me; he smiled broadly and that’s when I met one of my favourite KW tweeps IRL (in real life), @renjie. We chatted for a while that night, about the event and the speakers. At the end of the evening, we shook hands and our engagement on Twitter continued.

A few weeks later, I was in KW again to attend a SIG hosted event at The Seagram Museum in support of Adam Kahane’s book Power and Love. It was of little surprise to me that @renjie was one of the organizers. We DM’d to find one another in a room of hundreds, and as we walked towards one another, we naturally greeted each other with a hug. I tell this story often to share how in no time at all, Renjie Butalid went from being this figure on Twitter to being someone I considered a friend. We could not have come from more diverse backgrounds, communities and environments, but through Twitter, I met this someone that I shared a huge amount of energy and “likeness” with.


On Thursday, September 15, 2011, I spent the day at the first 140 Character Conference in Canada held at The Tannery in Kitchener. Created by Jeff Pulver, the conference is described as:

“The #140conf events provide a platform for the worldwide twitter community to: listen, connect, share and engage with each other, while collectively exploring the effects of the emerging real-time internet on business.”

A dedicated team of volunteers in Kitchener worked for months to bring this conference to fruition, and one only has to read through the #140ConfOnt hashtag stream on twitter to realize the effect that the speakers had on the audience.

Most of the people that spoke that day were sharing their stories of how Twitter has impacted their lives. Some of them has us in tears, like Heather Hamilton who spoke of how her twitter community rallied to raise $41,000, blowing pas the $25,000 goal to help build a room at York Central Hospital in honour of her son Zack, whom she lost earlier this year. Jodi Sonoda showed true bravery in being vulnerable by sharing how she turned to her Twitter community in times of great despair, now calling Twitter “her place to fall in case I fall again”. Or Matt Scobel, who spoke of bringing his love of marketing, technology and doing something together under Project Macfrica, giving new life to used Macs and creating computer labs in Africa.

I spent the entire day of the #140ConfOnt conversing in real life with some of the most amazing people that I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. These are people, that if it hadn’t been for Twitter, I never would’ve met otherwise, and because of Twitter, I’m able to learn more about and help support them and their passions. Whether we met at events organized and announced on Twitter, or they recognized me at the #IronChefUptown events held at Nick & Nat’s Uptown21, or at the #SMBWR breakfasts, or the Slow Food Perth County market, these are the kinds of people that I want to know. We’re all amazingly diverse, but fundamentally, these are the kind of people that I need in my life to help me feel fulfilled, engaged and connected. They are passionate, active visionaries and they inspire me each and every single day.

Twitter has also shown me, quite clearly, where my real passion and “feed my soul work” is. It has shown me where I need to make changes in my professional life and it’s this online community that reinforces for me that where I’m heading is where I’m meant to be. It’s where I’m most passionate and most compelled. That realization is priceless, in anyone’s development and growth. This community has given me unfiltered feedback on companies and organizations that I’ve encountered, or have considered working with or for. They’ve provided me feedback on my profiles and online presence, without expecting anything back. They do, because they’re of that ilk.

It was while chatting with my friend @TheKarlTopia at dinner the other night (after winning Social Media Idol at the Marketplace Conference and who by the way, I met up with only because I saw his tweet that he was eating at The Bauer Kitchen and I was only a few blocks away), that I shared with him how much I love Twitter because it lets all of us, every single one of the users of this amazing outlet, find our chosen kin. “Like finds like,” I said.

I can only hope that I bring some of the same energy, knowledge, experience and authenticity to those that I consider my community, and although I couldn’t possibly name all of you here, if I follow you or list you, it’s because I consider you an essential part of my growth, development, realization and life experience.

Thank you, Twitter. Thank you, all…


Some of my dear readers may know already that I’ve been in the midst of a 21 day cleanse, inspired by Kris Carr’s book Crazy Sexy Diet. Part of my commitment this summer was to lose a few pounds, do a good accounting of my overall health and well being, and make some good, fundamental changes in my every day routines.

So, I’ve been getting up early most mornings and usually getting out for a 10km ride around Lake Victoria in Stratford (yes folks, it’s Lake Victoria, not the Avon River in the heart of town). Each morning, I see many of the same folks either running or walking along the trail around the Lake, and as we pass one another each time, we smile and either call out or mouth, “G’Morning!” to one another. Sometimes, if someone’s looking particularly grumpy, I’ll make a specific point of smiling and greeting them, hoping to kickstart their day in a different way.


East side of Lake Victoria, near the trestle bridge

That simple gesture if one of the many, many things I love about living in this fair city of ours. It’s neighbourly, a way of connecting, of acknowledging, “yah, you’re crazy for being up this early too, and I like that!”…and when you see some of the people that are awake that early and charging head first into their day, it’s no wonder they’re as successful as they are…

I’ve found that it’s rather rare for people to actively avoid looking at one another as we pass on by (and funnily enough, it’s usually women runners in pairs that do that). Otherwise, young and old, running, walking, coffee sipping strollers, just about everyone   will make a point of making that eye contact and making that effort.

I encourage you to make the effort as you walk about wherever you are. Who knows what the simple nod will foster…



On Being a Biddy

In a few weeks, for the third year in a row, I will take up my duties as a member of one of the most extraordinary volunteer organizations that I’ve ever had the pleasure to work for; the Stratford Shakespeare Festival Friends of the Festival (FoF).

Founded in 1985, the Festival now boasts over 200 active, associate and honourary members. When I first moved to Stratford, I put myself on the waiting list to be considered as a volunteer and it took three years for me to be called on to join The Friends (and to be referred to as a “biddy” by a local transplant that learned of my new appointment). That’s a three year waiting list to volunteer!

The Friends provide the Festival with support that ends up being valued at literally hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. They provide tours of the gardens, back of the house, and archives, staff the information desks for each and every performance in the two main theatres, shadow The Festival’s administrative team in performing office duties and generally performing volunteering to fulfill any role that is needed.

The FoF and its Executive can teach every business owner, large and small, a great deal about how to serve their customers.  Before each patron has even walked in the door, there are dozens of hours of preparation in place; a foundation of education and implicit training for each role to ensure that every member of the FoF is prepared to create an experience at The Festival which is a positive and memorable one. The Executive and the volunteers are extraordinary in their attention to detail and they are thorough in their execution.

It’s true that I’m a number of years younger than most of the members of the Friends, many of whom are retired and support the Festival year round with their hours, and it’s not only the Festival that is the lucky recipient of the volunteers’ knowledge and experience. I’ve rarely been in such amazing company and it’s an honour to be exposed to a certain sensibility that’s almost lost these days in the new paradigm of work. One of the very real reasons that the Festival is such a success year after year is due to the longevity of the volunteers, their commitment to the Festival and equally to the Friends organization; that sensibility is one based on Service and a devout loyalty.

Not only am I surrounded by an obviously devoted crew of people that adore both the Festival and the theatre and relish just being a part of the whole experience, but I find myself in the midst of consummate professionals who consistently exhibit the type of dedication it takes to make an organization run smoothly.  They’re also fully adept at  adapting to the changing needs of their customers (both the Festival itself and the “bums in the seats”) for each and every season.

Anyone that says that seniors aren’t adopters of technology haven’t met the team that supports The Friends as they are certainly on the cusp of how to best use digital media to support their business and enhance the patron’s experience.  They have a website which houses all their current and historical administrative, communications and educational materials. All of the skills management and scheduling is conducted online and the Friends run training and education programs partnering with the Festival that is so thorough and insightful that they would put most corporate organizations to shame. There are also more Friends comfortably sourcing information for the patrons using their smartphones than you’d originally suspect.

I’ve been asked many times why I choose to volunteer at the Festival, considering all of my other commitments, both professionally and personally. Simply put, the City of Stratford is what it is in great part due to the Festival’s existence.  The creative culture, the innovative mindset, the cosmopolitan sensibility, the restaurants, the shops; all of these things come together to create a unique and extraordinary place to live and raise my family. The least that I can do is give back 30 hours a year to the organization that fosters this reality as my way to say thank you and be a part of perpetuating that original entrepreneurial vision.

So, I’m happy to be considered a biddy if it means that I get the opportunity to watch and learn from a committed group of people that come together year after year to be a part of an experience that feeds the souls of themselves and all of those that patronize the City of Stratford and The Festival, and perhaps one day I’ll be celebrating with my own 25 year pin of Service, fully owning that biddy title.

When the customer speaks…

I won’t complain. I just won’t come back. ~Brown & Williamson Tobacco Ad

Last week, I came across an important documentary that was produced by the BBC and was being shown on CBC titled Chocolate: The Bitter Truth regarding child labour and child trafficking in support of cocoa farming and the supply chain of cocoa.  Perth County is home to an amazing foodie movement, so being the weekend before Valentine’s Day, I tweeted out to the two chocolatiers in Stratford asking them if they knew where their chocolate was sourced.

Both businesses replied openly on Twitter and thanked me for pointing them to the documentary, but only one of the businesses actually replied to my question.

The one that did respond did it via direct message, shared in my concerns regarding the impact of the issue and further shared that they support Fairtrade chocolate in their store.

The other business out right ignored me and my second response question to them.

So, my question is this; if I was standing in your store Mr. Business Owner and I asked you a question to your face, would you turn your back on me and ignore me?

I doubt it.

So, why do you think it’s okay to do that to me online?

You continued to use Twitter throughout the weekend to hawk your wares, but most importantly to me, you turned your back on me, your customer. It doesn’t matter to me that you don’t have the “right” answer; I didn’t really expect you to.  What I did expect was for you to engage me and treat me with some respect. You didn’t.

Anyone that knows me knows that I am an avid advocate for the City of Stratford and especially for its small businesses. I have often put together little Stratford bags of goodness to share with colleagues visiting from other parts of the country to share with them the Stratford success stories and tastes from our businesses, which usually included a well known iconic mint chocolate bar.

So, now, my goodie bag will not be including wares from this chocolate house, nor will I retweet their messages or recommend them to visitors. Why would I?

Thanks to Derek of Chocolate Barr’s for engaging with me and showing me that I matter…your regard will be paid back in kind…

%d bloggers like this: