The History of Ward 5

When Guelph was founded in 1827, residential construction began almost immediately.  The clearing of Gordon and Waterloo Streets were among the first areas cleared for settlement in 1827.    The first log and frame homes began to rise along Farquhar, Essex, Nottingham, and Surrey Streets, on both sides of Gordon.  Lot 1 was purchased on August 11, 1827 by James D. Oliver, who built Guelph’s first stone house, which stood approximately on the corner of Farquhar St. W. and Gordon Street.   Guelph’s first bakery was operating by September 1827, by Mr. Samuel Wright, on the Dundas Road (now Gordon Street) where it crosses the Speed River.  The bakery was “open air, built of limestone”.   The city limit to the south was where the rise of the hill began (approximately Forbes Avenue). Guelph Township surrounded the fledgling town, ending at Stone Road, where Puslinch Township began.

The neighbourhood development along Gordon Street, between Waterloo Avenue at the Speed River, is the oldest residential area of the city.  This neighbourhood still contains a treasure trove of historic gems — the stone cobblers shop (on Nottingham behind the Drop In Centre), the cider mill (96 Essex), McLean House (21 Nottingham),  and many finely built stone cottages.  The “Red Lion” inn and tavern built in 1841, currently being restored on the northwest corner of Fountain and Gordon Street, is now used for apartments.

The Guelph and Dundas Road Company

Access across the Speed River at what is now Gordon Street was built shortly after Guelph’s founding , however, the condition of roads heading south towards Hamilton were dismal, with many muddy and swampy sections.  Travel to Hamilton harbour was normally made by travelling the Waterloo Road to Berlin or the Town of Galt, through the Gore District.

Gordon Street ran from Wilson Street to the Speed River bridge.  The road changed its named to the Dundas Road to the south of the river to the city limits.  Beyond the city limit (Stone Road) it was known as the Brock Road. 


1910 Bridge over Speed River at Gordon Street, looking south


The first attempt to improve road conditions between Guelph and Hamilton began in 1838. Hamilton was the closest shipping port and essential to growth.  Private business fundraising made little progress.  Other private road ventures threatened Guelph’s dominant economic and strategic geographical position.   The Oakville-Fergus and Trafalgar-Esquesing-Erin Road companies to the east of the city were moving ahead with plans to build an improved road system, leaving Guelph behind.

In July 1847, a joint stock company — the Guelph and Dundas Road Company — was incorporated.   Since most of Guelph’s wealthiest merchants and millers were also its public officials — councillors and magistrates — it was no surprise that this private venture soon became financed through the public purse through ownership of shares.   The Gore District Council purchased shares to building the Dundas to Wellington County boundary, Guelph held shares to build the portion from this point through the city to the northern boundary, and the Wellington District Council held shares to build north of the city towards Owen Sound.   Land speculators along the road were enthusiastic supporters!

Lots for sale in the South Ward (now Ward 5) were advertised immediately, and business and residential growth boomed.


Early Residential Settlement:  Brooklyn and the College Hill

In late 1827, the first bridge across the Speed River on the Dundas Road (Gordon Street) was constructed.  Settlement and industry began in earnest.  Road building to connect to settlements near Lake Ontario was the first order of business. Early farms were cleared, with the first on record being the farm of John Macdonald, now part of the Cutten Club golf course.  The Macdonald farmhouse still stands at the far end of Dormie Lane, off Gordon Street.



The land bounded by Water Street, Maple Street, Forest Street and Mary Street forms the grand estate property once known as Ulmenwald.  Home to three generations of the Peterson family, it was once the site of highly-attended picnics and parties, and boasted a massive home described as the “most picturesque house in Ontario.”

Read more about the history of Ulmenwald.


Brooklyn is a nickname given to the area along the Speed River, between Gordon and Maple, and south to Forbes Avenue.   The name is still in use locally, to delineate the early settlement area of the much-larger Old University Neighbourhood.    The Brooklyn neighbourhood, along with the College Hill, is part of Guelph’s first Heritage Conservation District.  Characterized by small worker’s cottages, stone craftsmanship, Gow’s Bridge, and home to McCrae House and three Matthew Bell homes, Brooklyn has a unique character of its own.   The Brooklyn and College Hill Heritage report is a great place to read more about the history of this community.


More to come ….  check back again to read about the Thompson Survey, Day Survey and Frederick Stone and the College on the Hill.


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