In economics, a “black swan” refers to an unexpected event. But in Stratford, Ont., a black swan leading two dozen of its white cousins as they all waddle down the street is not unexpected at all. In fact, it’s the highlight of the Parade of the Swans, a major annual event that marks the start of spring and draws throngs of onlookers.
Stratford’s swans are kept in a winter shelter during the colder months — from Halloween until the first Sunday in April — after which they emerge and are guided the block-anda- half to their summer home on the Avon River, which runs through town. “The river gets kind of dead in the winter,” says Quin Malott, Stratford’s parks and forestry manager. “But once the birds are on it, they bring it to life.”
The tradition started in 1918, when a pair of swans was first kept in Stratford over the winter and brought to the river in spring. After those birds died, however, the custom ended and wasn’t revived until the late 1950s, when new swans were introduced. The parade that takes place today didn’t begin until 1990, but has been growing in popularity ever since.
This year, more than 2,000 people — some carrying Swan Quest maps that mark the locations of swan topiaries around town, some sporting flamboyant paper swan hats — watched the swans strut their stuff. In a town best known for a theatre festival that highlights the works of Shakespeare, it was a performance worthy of the bard himself.