STRATFORD, Ontario – It’s a small town that practically screams “Shakespeare!”

Majestic white swans swim in the Avon River not far from Falstaff Street and Anne Hathaway Park, named after the playwright’s wife. Some residents live in Romeo Ward while young students attend Hamlet Primary School. And the school’s eponymous play is often performed as part of a renowned theater festival that draws legions of Shakespeare fans from around the world from April to October.

Steeped in references and reverence for the bard, Stratford, Ontario has counted on its association with Shakespeare for decades to reliably bring millions of tourist dollars to a city that would otherwise have little appeal to travelers.

“My dad always said we had a world-class theater housed in a farming community,” said Frank Herr, second-generation owner of a boat tour and rental business along the Avon River.

Then, about a dozen years ago, a new and usually much younger breed of culture enthusiast emerged on Stratford’s streets: Beliebers, or fans of local talent, pop star Justin Bieber.

Local residents don’t have much trouble telling the two types of visitors apart. A hint: look at what they are wearing.

“You have the Shakespeare books in your hands,” said Herr Herr of those who are here for the love of the theatre. “They’re just serious people.”

Beliebers, on the other hand, always have their smartphones handy to excitedly document the pop star’s otherwise boring sights: the location of his first date, the local radio station that first played his music, the diner where he was rumored to be eating.

Unlike Shakespeare – who never set foot in this town, named after his birthplace Stratford-upon-Avon, England – Mr. Bieber has real and deep connections: he grew up here and is familiar to many.

“I know Justin,” said Mr. Herr. “He used to skateboard on the cenotaph, and I used to kick him off the cenotaph,” he added, referring to a World War I memorial in the gardens next to Lake Victoria.

Diane Dale, Mr. Bieber’s maternal grandmother, and her husband Bruce lived a 10-minute drive from downtown Stratford, where the young singer, now 28, could often be found busking and collecting on the steps of the Avon Theater under her supervision up to $200 a day, she said in a recent interview.

Those moves became something of a pilgrimage for Mr. Bieber’s fans, particularly those vying to become “One Less Lonely Girl” during his teen-pop dreamboat era.

Another popular stop on the pilgrimage was Mrs. Dale’s front door. After fans rang her doorbell, she reassured them that her grandson wasn’t home, but that didn’t stop her from snapping selfies in front of the red-brick bungalow.

“Justin said if you don’t move, we won’t come see you anymore,” recalled Ms. Dale, a retired seamstress at a now-closed auto factory in town. In the meantime she has moved.

Stratford businesses that benefited from this second group of tourists began to speak of the “Bieber Effect,” a play on the “Bilbao Effect,” in reference to the Spanish city revitalized by a museum.

But one of the problems with pop fame is that it can be fickle. As fans have aged from their youthful infatuation with the musician, the “Bieber fever” has cooled and the number of pilgrims has dwindled.

The problems that have long plagued other Canadian cities, such as soaring home prices and drug addiction, are peeking more frequently through the picturesque veneer of Stratford, a city of about 33,000 surrounded by sprawling cornfields in southwestern Ontario’s farmland region.

But more than 400 years after his death, Shakespeare’s appeal is still fully intact.

The theater festival, which attracts over 500,000 visitors in a typical year and employs around 1,000 people, features Shakespearean classics, Broadway-style musicals and modern plays in its repertoire.

With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the festival returned to its roots, holding a limited number of outdoor shows under canopies, as it did for the first four seasons beginning in 1953. In 1957 the Festival Theater building was inaugurated with a summer production of Hamlet, starring Canadian actor Christopher Plummer in the title role.

In this year’s production, a woman, Amaka Umeh, plays the first black actress to play Hamlet at the festival.

While it’s unknown how popular Mr. Bieber will be four centuries from now, the appeal of someone who’s sold over 100 million digital singles in the United States alone doesn’t fade overnight.

And Stratford has taken steps to permanently commemorate his youth here.

Mr. Bieber’s grandparents had kept boxes of his belongings, including talent show sheet music and a drum set, which were paid for by the community in a crowdfunding effort – until a local museum offered them a chance to display the items.

“It changed the museum forever in so many ways,” said John Kastner, general manager of the Stratford Perth Museum.

After telling the local newspaper that the museum was opening an exhibition called Justin Bieber: Steps to Stardom in February 2018, Mr Kastner said he was inundated with calls from international media.

“We wanted to make a room, like a 10 by 10 room,” said Mr. Kastner. He called his curator. “I said, ‘We have a problem.'”

They canceled the agricultural show planned for the adjacent space, which proved helpful in accommodating the 18,000 visitors in the first year of the Bieber show, a huge increase in attendance from the 850 who visited the museum in 2013.

The Bieber show, which will be on at least until next year, has generated thousands of dollars in merchandise purchases, Mr. Kastner said, giving the modest museum a welcome financial cushion.

Mr. Bieber has also made a handful of visits, chalked his name on the guest board and donated some recent memorabilia, including his wedding invitation and reception menu, which featured a dish called “Grandma Diane’s Bolognese.”

But even before the Beliebers came to town, organized school visits brought young people to Stratford in busloads, with 50,000 to 100,000 students arriving each year from across the United States and Canada.

Barring the pandemic border closures, James Pakala and his wife Denise, both retired seminary librarians in St. Louis, have come to Stratford for about a week every year since the early 1990s. Thirty years earlier, Ms. Pakala traveled to Stratford with her high school English literature class from Ithaca, NY, and the trip has become a tradition ever since.

“I love Shakespeare and I love Molière too,” said Mr Pakala, 78, who was studying his program ahead of a recent production of Molière’s comedy The Miser outside the Festspielhaus.

Other guests enjoy the ease of getting around Stratford. Traffic is fairly light, there is ample parking and most major attractions are a short walk from each other, with lovely views of the rippling river and picturesque gardens.

“It’s easy to go to theaters here,” said Michael Walker, a retired banker from Newport Beach, California, who visits with friends every year. “It’s not like New York, where it’s arduous, and the quality of the theater here is better than Los Angeles or Chicago, in my opinion.”

The Here for Now Theatre, an independent non-profit that opened during the pandemic and plays to a maximum of 50 people, has a “symbiotic relationship” with the festival, said its artistic director Fiona Mongillo, who compared the scale of their activities to a Fiat for the Festival freight train.

“It’s an interesting moment for Stratford because I think it’s growing and changing in a really beautiful way,” Ms. Mongillo said, noting the increasing diversity as Canadians have moved from neighboring cities to a previous city, she added , “very, very white.”

Longtime residents of Stratford, like Madeleine McCormick, a retired corrections officer, said it can sometimes seem like residents’ concerns are being sidelined in favor of tourists.

Nonetheless, Ms McCormick acknowledged the assets of the vibrant community of artists and creative people that captivated her musician husband.

“It’s a strange place,” she said. “Because of the theatre, there will never be a place like that again.”

And Mr. Bieber.