Footsteps in Ward 5: Peterson Creek

Ward 5 is filled with special places.  Is there a unique place, person, building, or geographical feature about which you would like to know more?  Email me your question and I will do my best to tell the story…

The first installment of our new series “Footsteps in Ward 5” is the story of Peterson Creek.   You’ve probably heard of Silver Creek, Howitt Creek, Hadati Creek and Clythe Creek….but where is Peterson Creek?



Peterson Creek trickles in the Speed River near Gow’s Bridge.


Peterson Creek is a buried creek that runs through the Old University Neighbourhood, with its forked headwaters on University of Guelph land near McGilvray Street.  The underground creek winds its way along Rodney Boulevard and Woodside Road towards the Speed River, cutting diagonally at a northerly angle across the ravine at 94 Maple Street towards Forest Hill Drive.  It follows Forest Hill Drive and enters the Speed River between Forest Hill Drive and Gow’s Bridge.



Peter Creek, based on a map by cartographer and environmental consultant Jeremy Shute.



During the spring, the creek has a consistent  flow, which reduces to a trickle during the summer months.  The engineered storm sewer system collects much of the rainwater that would once have flowed into the creek prior to development.  The outlet into the Speed River is the only remaining evidence that the creek still exists.









Peterson Creek outlet in the Speed River, 2016.


The creek takes its name from the Peterson family — three generations of Petersons lived on the sprawling estate known as Ulmenwald where the creek makes its way to the Speed River.  The boundaries of the former Peterson property were modern-day Forest Street to the south, Maple Street to the west, Water Street to the north and Mary Street to the east.  On the 1856 map below, you can see the ravine sketched across the property.  The footprint of the former Ulmenwald house is roughly where 9 Wolfond Crescent is located today.


Boundary of the Peterson estate, 1856 Map of Guelph, Guelph Civic Museum.


The Peterson Creek “spring”. Photo courtesy of Peterson Family.


Prior to development of the neighbourhood in the 1940s and 50s, the creek fed an above-ground spring, roughly located at the base of the ravine near the intersection of Forest Hill Drive and James Street.



The story of Ulmenwald and its builder — Henry William (Bill) Peterson — is an interesting one.  Bill Peterson’s father (Henry William, Esq. Sr.) operated the first German language newspaper in Canada.  His mother Harriet Clayton, was sister of the U.S. Secretary of State, John Clayton of Delaware.  They moved to Guelph in 1842 when H.W. Peterson Sr. was appointed as the Registrar for the united Counties of Waterloo, Wellington, and Grey.


H.W. (Bill) Peterson and wife Emma Grange, 1860. Photo courtesy of the Peterson Family.

Henry W. Jr. (Bill) Peterson was one of Guelph’s most prominent citizens.  He served as Mayor of Guelph (1863), city councillor (1861-1866) Chairman of the Guelph Board of Education (43 years), County Crown Attorney (49 years) and Reeve of Wellington County.  He operated a law partnership with Andrew Lemon, father of songwriter Laura Lemon.  He married Emma Grange, daughter of Lt. Colonel (Sheriff) George J. Grange.  Their marriage was dissolved by an Act of Parliament, one of the first recorded divorces in Canada.  H.W. (Bill) divorced his wife and mother of his six children — Douglass, William, Ellen, Clayton, John Dieter and Margaret — as a result of her scandalous extramarital affair with a local doctor.  Peterson put his legal skills to work to sue the doctor for ‘alienation of affections’ resulting in a substantial financial settlement.


The Peterson home, Ulmenwald, was built between 1854 and 1856, and has been described as “one of the most picturesque homes in the Province of Ontario.”  It was a sprawling, architecturally complex residence, containing elements of Gothic Revival, Jacobean, Greek Revival and Victorian styles.


Ulmenwald, south elevation (facing the Speed River), circa 1860s

Ulmenwald featured four wings, totaling 28 rooms, including seven+ bedrooms, a library, billiard room, two kitchens, two dining rooms, a study, sun room, servant’s quarters, several porches, garden conservatory, stables, carriage house, and Guelph’s first recorded spring-fed swimming pools.


Ulmenwald, east elevation, circa 1870. Photo courtesy of the Peterson Family.

The house was passed down to his son Clayton, who raised his family there until the 1940s, when the property was sold to Thomas Bedford in 1944, for development of the “Bedford Park” subdivision on McCrae Blvd and Forest Hill Drive.  The sale of the remaining land in 1948 to Joseph Wolfond signalled the end of an era.  In August 1952, Wolfond demolished the house and all of its outbuildings to develop Wolfond Crescent.

Today, there is no trace of Ulmenwald, other than the outlet of Peterson Creek at the Speed River.

Interested in reading more about the Peterson’s and Ulmenwald?   Here’s a copy of the full article I wrote for publication in the 2007 issue of Historic Guelph.


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