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.


Hey What’s That Old Building?

Have you ever wondered about the origin of the Drill Hall?  The what?  You know, that building across from the Armoury.  The one by the tracks behind the train station.  Yes, it has a name.

The Drill Hall (sometimes referred to as the Drill Shed) was built in 1866 in response to the Fenian raids along the Upper and Lower Canadian borders.  Many historians credit the Fenian threat as a catalyst to unite the provinces to form the Dominion of Canada in 1867.  History buffs can read all about it here.

In order to prepare to defend the nation, the local Guelph militia needed a place to train soldiers.  The site where the Drill Hall now sits was public land offered up for just such a purpose.  A full and engrossing history of the Drill Hall was published in Historic Guelph (2014), the annual publication of the Guelph Historical Society.

Surviving pre-Confederation Drill Halls are extremely rare in Canada.  Many were makeshift temporary structures that simply did not last beyond the 19th century.  Thankfully, Guelph has a long-standing architectural tradition of constructing buildings to last, which has meant that, through adaptive re-use, they are still here today.  The Drill Hall structure and its many subsequent uses tell a fascinating story about Guelph’s military and industrial heritage.

What’s the next chapter for the Drill Hall?  Located in the heart of downtown — next to GO Transit, Innovation Guelph, the Chamber of Commerce, and Market Square —  the possibilities are endless.  The site is currently owned by Metrolinx GO, who acquired the property to create a platform area when daily train service was established in Guelph a few years ago.

Artist studios, performance and jam space, entrepreneurial space, social enterprise space, community use or market space?  Let’s hear YOUR ideas by adding your comments below….



Happy St. George’s Day!

April 23 comes and goes each year and Guelph, like most cities, hums along as if it is any other day.  St. Patrick’s Day gets all the partying!  St. George’s Day, not so much…

April 23 honours the patron saint of England, Saint George, slayer of dragons.  It also marks the date that Guelph was founded by John Galt, who ceremoniously chopped down a tree and proclaimed his new city.  Galt tells the story best in his autobiography:

“It was consistent with my plan to invest our ceremony with a little mystery, the better to make it be remembered. …The tree fell with a crash of accumulating thunder, as if ancient Nature were alarmed at the entrance of social man into her innocent solitudes with his sorrows, his follies, and his crimes. I do not suppose that the sublimity of the occasion was unfelt by the others, for I noticed that after the tree fell, there was a funereal pause, as when the coffin is lowered into the grave ; it was, however, of short duration, for the doctor pulled a flask of whisky from his bosom, and we drank prosperity to the City of Guelph.

The name [Guelph] was chosen in compliment to the royal family, both because I thought it auspicious in itself, and because I could not recollect that it had ever been before used in all the king’s dominions….

It may appear ludicrous to many readers, that I look on this incident with gravity, but in truth I am very serious ; for although Guelph is not so situated as ever to become celebrated for foreign commerce, the location possesses many advantages independent of being situated on a tongue of land surrounded by a clear and rapid stream. It will be seen by the map of the province, that it stands almost in the centre of the table-land, which separates four of the great lakes, namely, Ontario, Simcoe, Huron, and Erie, and though its own river, the Speed, as I named it, is not large, yet at the town it receives the Eramosa…advantages which few inland towns in the whole world can boast of at such a distance from the sea. In planning the city, for I will still dignify it by that title, though applied at first in derision, I had, like the lawyers in establishing their fees, an eye to futurity in the magnitude of the parts.”

I hope we’ve done you proud Mr. Galt.


Heritage Sure Does Gets People Talking

Last night, I attended an event organized by the local branch of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario about the Wilson-Ingram farmhouse, a north-end heritage asset on the brink of an uncertain end.  It was billed as an opportunity to “celebrate” and “explore ways to secure its future.”

It certainly was that.  With well over 50 people in attendance, the event began with a slideshow of historic and current images of the Wilson-Ingram farm property.   The show was choreographed by David J. Knight, a professional archaelogist, who grew up on the northern edge of the city and friend of the Ingram family who lived on the property until 2006.  Many of the historic photos were supplied to him by the Ingram family, which he compiled and set to an earthy and echoing sound track featuring cicadas, crickets and cows.

Knight’s visual and audio gift was followed by a presentation and active discussion on one possible future vision of the farmhouse as a community centre.  Ben Barclay, who led the creation of K-W’s REEP House project, described a vision of what he has done in the past to convert historic homes (in worse or similar condition to the Wilson-Ingram farmhouse) into showpiece demonstrations of energy retrofits.  He further described how such a home could host “community enterprise” uses and announced that the Trillium Waldorf school has already submitted a letter expressing interest in leasing space.

All in all, it was a positive and interactive event.

You would never know it by the Guelph Mercury coverage the next day.   Here’s the link to the Mercury article.   Headline:  “Farmhouse’s former owner says it’s not worth saving”. 

Normally, I would post the article link and leave it at that.   But I am more keenly aware of how the media reports things during an election year, and 2014 just happens to be one.   The coverage of the ACO event by the Mercury was a great illustrative example of how to create a headline on an issue of political interest.    Heritage demolition is one of those issues that gets people riled up, for and against.

Balanced reporting is essential to balanced debate. 

Journalism is the balanced reporting of facts and public and/or expert opinion on an issue.  Editorials offer the personal musings and perspectives of the reporter.

Consider the following:

  1. Jack Ingram, who sold the property for development, was NOT in attendance at this event. *
  2. Jack’s brother’s wife and her two daughters WERE in attendance, and are supportive of a renewed life for their former home. *
  3. Jack rented the house to his brother and his family who lived in it for over 35 years until 2006 (not 2001 which keeps being  reported). *
  4. Three city councillors were in attendance, one who supports demolition and two who support retention and reuse.  Which one was quoted in the article?

* Source:  David J. Knight, who presented at last night’s meeting.

In response to a tweet I sent out this morning expressing my disappointment on the biased coverage, Mercury reporter Chris Herhalt responded “Yes, the ambiance of the evening is *far* more important than what everyone thinks about what ought to be done”  and… “and we reported on, at length, the most developed plan for the farmhouse’s future, which was presented that night.”

“Everyone”?  “At length”?    I must be missing something.


Wilson Farm: An Evening of Celebration and Creative Thinking

Guelph citizens never cease to amaze me…here’s a great upcoming event for anyone interested in our heritage and why it’s important to try to save what we have left…  LP


7 pm 

at the eBar downtown Guelph (2nd floor Bookshelf)

Wilson Farm ACO David Knight poster pdf

With music, stories and aerial photographs, archaeologist
and musician David Knight will help celebrate and start a
conversation about the historic Wilson farm.

The fate of the farmhouse has been the subject of heated
debate in Guelph – find a new use for it or demolish it.
David and his band-mates Scott Morrison and Ben
Grossman of the Kazoo musical group will provide the
music and participants will provide the conversation to
explore future possibilities for the farmhouse.
Ben Bradley, project manager of the REEP design team, will
show how the Wilson farmhouse can become a sustainable
living showroom.
Come, join in and discuss your ideas – let’s celebrate the
Wilson farmhouse and explore ways to secure its future.


Presented by the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario.  For more information, call Susan Ratcliffe at 519-831-0995.

Brooklyn and College Hill – Heritage Conservation Workshop

Moving forward with the next phase of community input on the Brooklyn and College Hill Heritage Conservation District.

Community Meeting:
Wednesday, October 2, 2013
7:00 pm
Guelph Community Christian School (195 College Avenue W.)

More information available at:

See you there!