Author: Leanne Piper

Publication Date: 2008

Edited: 2022



Historic Guelph V47P16

Location of H. W. Peterson property, Map of Guelph, 1856, Part Lot 2, 3rd Concession, Division G. of Guelph Township. Address: 122 Water Street.

(Image courtesy of Guelph Museums).


Heritage architecture is our physical link to the people and events of Guelph's past. Every building lost is a story lost. The story of Ulmenwald is just such a tale - hardship, wealth, scandal, political intrigue, happiness, and sorrow - against the backdrop of a thriving town.


Guelph's early prosperity attracted and nurtured a thriving economy and with it, a wealthy class of industrialists, businessmen and stock-breeders. When Guelph became the administrative seat of Wellington County in 1840, it also became home to well-heeled lawyers, judges, and administrators. It comes as no surprise then, that Guelph is blessed with many fine palatial estate homes, many still intact and in use today. Gilnockie, Elm Park, Ker Cavan, Wyoming, Summerhill, Idylwyld, Riverslea, and Manor Park come to mind as some of the finest enduring examples of architectural craftsmanship and opulence of nineteenth-century Guelph.1 But of all the grand residences of this bygone era, there was no finer estate in the Royal City than Ulmenwald.


The literal translation of Ulmenwald from German is "elm tree forest," but a more figurative translation would have been "Elmwood." In its lifetime, the property was always referred to by its original German name. Ulmenwald was constructed as the estate home of Henry W. Peterson Jr. and his wife, Emma Grange, daughter of Sheriff George J. Grange. "Bill" Peterson was one of Guelph's most prominent citizens and long-standing public servants. He served as Mayor of Guelph in 1863 and City Councillor from 1861 to 1866. He also served as Chairman of the Guelph Board of Education for 43 years; County Crown Attorney for 49 years; and for Reeve of Wellington County Council.2 Three generations of Petersons owned the property in succession over a 47-year period (1854-1924). Until its unfortunate destruction in 1952, Ulmenwald's municipal address was 122 Water Street. Its approximate location was at the crest of a hill in the Old University neighbourhood, roughly situated where 9 Wolfond Crescent stands today.



Once referred to as, "One of the most picturesque homes in the Province of Ontario,Ulmenwald was built between 1854 and 1856.3, 4


Historic Guelph Ulmenwald V47P18

FIGURE 1: Ulmenwald, circa 1860s.

(Photo courtesy of Clayton Peterson. Private Collection).


Historic Guelph After Additions V47P18

Circa 1910 after additions. This became the side entrance with new entrance changed to corner of Mary and James Street.

(Photo courtesy of Clayton Peterson. Private Collection).


It was a stunning residence and architecturally complex, with elements of Gothic Revival, Jacobean, Greek Revival, and Victorian styles. The original house was modest, constructed of white (buff) brick, but was expanded considerably shortly thereafter as the Peterson family grew in both size and prosperity.


The original home faced northwest, on the crest of a gently rising hill facing the Speed River. Architectural features of the original home included a large bay entrance with a central Gothic gable, two jerkin-head side-gabled dormers, traditional gabled dormers, wooden shutters, a large double chimney, a lattice-trellised front porch, and a distinctive cupola (Figure 1).5 Rear and side elevations were also distinctively designed, featuring numerous differing styles of wooden trim, Gothic oriel windows, brick quoining, and a rear Greek Revival portico (Figure 2). The windows were not consistent: several Gothic arched windows, six-over-six sash windows, four-over-four narrow shuttered windows and small casement windows in the upper-floor dormers. It was truly a buffet of architectural whimsy!


Historic Guelph V47P19

FIGURE 2: Ulmenwald, eastern elevation. Photo courtesy of Clayton Peterson. Private Collection.


The architect cannot be confirmed. However, there were a few professionally trained architects in Guelph at the time, one being David Murray, primarily known for his Gothic Revival style. The lattice-work porch is remarkably similar to the home of Peterson's law partner Andrew Lemon, Mavis Bank (Laura Lemon's birthplace) at 74 Arthur Street, which was known to have been constructed by Robert Stewart Lumber Ltd.6


Historic Guelph V47P20

Interior floorplan of Ulmenwald, From drawings by Earl Palmer, resident between 1941 and 1948.


Over the years, the home was extensively altered with a large front addition, enclosed porches, and the main entrance was turned towards the driveway approach from the corner of James and Mary Streets. By the early 1900s, Ulmenwald featured four wings, totaling 28 rooms, which included at least seven bedrooms, a library, billiard room, two kitchens, two dining rooms, a study, sunroom, servants' quarters, several porches, a swimming pool, garden conservatory, stable, and carriage house.7


Historic Guelph V47P21

View from Mary Street or James Street Entrance. Circa early 1900s.

(Photo courtesy of Clayton Peterson. Private Collection).



The interior of the home was no less extravagant than its fine exterior construction, symbolic of the wealth and prominence of the Peterson family. Ulmenwald's last occupants, prior to its demise, was the family of Edward and Abigail Palmer. Their son, Earl Palmer of Lynden, Ontario, was a teenager when he lived at Ulmenwald in the 1940s and he recounts, "Most enjoyable memories," of his early life at Ulmenwald.8 Many of the original historic interior details were largely intact at that time. Palmer recalls that the living room boasted ornate plaster designs with hanging lights down the centre, as well as oak-paneled walls in the library, living room, dining room and billiard room, as well as a hidden cupboard in the billiard room and under the main staircase.9 Six fireplaces kept the family warm during the Canadian winter. The main floor featured wide plank floors, two staircases, and a stained-glass transom above the front entrance. The home had an abundance of natural light. The porches, sunroom, and billiard room had windows all around. The windows on the lower level were five to six feet tall.10 A walnut grove near Edinburgh Road supplied the raw material for a grand staircase constructed by the Robert Stewart Lumber Co., as well as the paneling for the front hall which was so grand that it, "Defied description."11


Historic Guelph V47P22

Ulmenwald property, Cold water creek spring, circa 1910.

(Photo courtesy of Clayton Peterson. Private Collection).


A portion of the house, including, "Five or six," bedrooms, was used as servants' quarters. The Petersons were known to have, "Coloured servants," as a family diary indicates that household funds were dispensed to pay for musical instruction for a young Black servant.12



The original grounds of Ulmenwald were part of Lot 2, in the 3rd Concession of Division G, Township of Guelph. The land was part of a parcel first granted to Charles McTague and Samuel Higginson by the Canada Company in 1830. A 25-acre part lot was purchased by Henry William Peterson the Elder in 1854. The boundaries of the property were roughly the lines of present-day Forest Street, Maple Street, Mary Street, and Water Street in the City of Guelph. Ulmenwald's address was 122 Water Street, where a pair of stone gates stood to mark the long approach (now McCrae Boulevard). The Water Street gates were referred to as the 'bottom gates,' and at the present-day corner of Mary Street and James Street stood the 'top gates,' which provided access from Dundas Road, now called Gordon Street.13 The extensive grounds of Ulmenwald were described as, "Situated in the midst of the 'forest primeval' of extensive and fine woodland."14 The grounds were known for their pastoral beauty by the townspeople of Guelph. In reporting the death of Henry Peterson, Jr. in 1913, the Guelph Evening Mercury and Advertiser stated that,


"Many will remember with pleasure these beautiful grounds, which Mr. Peterson for thirty years or more generously placed at the command of the various Sunday School organizations of this city for their annual picnics and other pleasures."15


Historic Guelph V47P23

The Carriage House and Stable at Ulmenwald.

(Photo courtesy of Clayton Peterson. Private Collection).


A small creek ran through the Ulmenwald property coming from the southwest and drained into the Speed River.16 The grounds themselves were as well-appointed as the house. A swimming pool and fountain, flower gardens, and a glass conservatory adorned the property. The red brick stable and carriage house was almost as architecturally unique as the main house - a central Gothic front gable, side jerkin-heads, vergeboard trim, two-over-two sash windows and a large-vented cupola. The property also featured a doll house, reportedly so fancy that it was almost the size of a modern small house, "Large enough for a full-grown person to enter and climb a small staircase to a second storey," and a completely finished interior.17


Historic Guelph V47P9 test24

Aerial view of Peterson property, 1941.

(Photo courtesy of Guelph Museums).



The land south of the Speed River in the 1850s was largely unsettled. There had been some modest construction along the river on Water Street and Albert Street after the opening of the Dundas Street Bridge (Gordon Street) in 1828.18 The riverbank area was swampy and shallow, a result of several mills and millponds upstream at Goldie's Mill and Allan's Mill. In the early 1850s, Peter Gow, a former town councillor (South Ward), Mayor of Guelph and member of the Provincial Legislative Assembly from 1867 to 1878, established a tannery and woolen mill on his lot in the 3rd Concession, Division G. A wooden bridge was constructed over the river in 1852 and replaced by the current stone bridge - known as Gow's Bridge - in 1897. Around the same time, several large estates were constructed nearby. Arthur Wells, a civil engineer with the Grand Trunk Railway, built his grand estate Well's Grove, now 25 Manor Park, circa 1857 in Concession 4, Division G, Township of Guelph. Summerhill, a large Georgian residence built by James Thompson in the late 1840s, now 25 Harcourt Drive, was constructed on nearby Lot 3, Concession 3, Division G. A fine estate home on Lot 5, Concession 3, Division G, now 11 Yeadon Drive, was constructed for John Neeve between 1854 to 1856. Of the many grand estate homes and farms between the Speed River and College Avenue built between 1850 and 1860, only Ulmenwald has not survived.


Nearby to the east, the working-class Brooklyn neighbourhood was mostly settled by the end of the nineteenth century, a diverse mix of stone cottages, brick, and wood frame residences.19 Guelph octogenarian Naomi Burcombe Jotham remembers growing up across from the woods of Ulmenwald on nearby Mary Street in the 1920s, and vividly recalls the layout of the nearby landscape and the defined boundary between the working class of Brooklyn and Ulmenwald. Jotham recalls as a young girl being caught trespassing on the grounds of Ulmenwald by 'Lady Peterson' (likely Martha Thompson Peterson, wife of Clayton Peterson, in the 1920s). Jotham recounts the tale:


"Lady Peterson caught me with a handful of violets from the woods, and she ran after me, yelling 'If you're going to pick them, you better be sure to take them all home. I don't want to find a single one wasted and thrown on the ground!'"20



Three generations of the Peterson family are associated with Ulmenwald. In May 1854, ownership of the unoccupied lot was deeded to Henry W. Peterson, Esq., the Elder. In September 1857, ownership transferred to his son Henry W. "Bill" Peterson, Jr.


Historic Guelph V47P26Henry W. Peterson Sr. (1793-1859) Father of Henry W. Peterson Jr. First registrar of the County of Wellington.


H. W. "Bill" Peterson Jr., once one of Wellington County's most eminent and respected citizens, is all but forgotten in the annals of Guelph history. Today, no park, street, or other marker to indicate his significance to Guelph can be found. Even at City Hall, where an honour roll of past Mayors hangs outside Council Chambers, Peterson is absent (the roll starts at 1867).


Henry William Peterson Jr. was born in 1831 in Waterloo Township. His father, Henry Peterson the Elder, came to Canada via Delaware, USA with his parents from Quakenbrück, in the duchy of Oldenburg, Germany. The elder Peterson married Harriet Middleton Clayton (sister of U. S. Secretary of State Hon. John Clayton, 1848-1856), and they settled in Berlin, now Kitchener. Henry W. Peterson, the Elder, published the first German language newspaper in Upper Canada, the Canadian Museum, which was founded in Berlin in 1835.21 Peterson Sr. arrived in Guelph around 1842, when he was appointed Registrar for the United Counties of Waterloo, Wellington, Grey.22 Although Peterson the Elder was the registered owner of the property in 1854, it does not appear that Ulmenwald was built as his personal residence, but rather always intended for his son. Peterson Sr. lived at 10-12 Waterloo Avenue, which was adjacent to the old Canada Company registration office. He died in Guelph on June 12, 1859.


When the house was first constructed between 1854 and 1856, Henry Peterson Jr. was a young bachelor, freshly returned to Guelph after receiving his BA and MA from the University of Toronto.23 He embarked on his legal career in 1857 after receiving his Articles of Clerkship (equivalent to being 'called to the bar') from Osgoode Hall.24 He practiced law with Andrew Lemon (father of Guelph songwriter Laura Lemon), one of the earliest law practices in Guelph.25 The law office of Messrs. Lemon and Peterson, Barristers, was advertised as located at the Old Post Office Block, Guelph.26 Peterson's legal career led to his appointment as Clerk of the Peace in 1867.


Historic Guelph H. W. Peterson Jr. V47P27

H. W. Peterson Jr., Mayor of Guelph, 1863. 

(Photo courtesy of Clayton Peterson. Private Collection).


On November 21, 1860, Peterson married Emma Grange, daughter of Lt. Colonel (Sheriff) George J. Grange. He was 28, the bride was 21. Unfortunately, the marriage was not a lasting one. In fact, Mrs. Peterson's adulterous affair with a local doctor caused quite a scandal when Peterson sued the offending doctor for, "Alienation of affections," and it was necessary for many of Guelph's elite society to give public testimony. Peterson was eventually awarded 5,000 dollars (equivalent to about a million dollars today).27 The affair continued, and Peterson divorced his wife through an Act of Parliament in 1875.28


Historic Guelph Wedding Photo V47P27

Wedding Photo of H. W. Peterson Jr. and Emma Grange, 1860.

(Photo courtesy of Clayton Peterson. Private Collection).


Despite marital woes, the Petersons had six children (see Appendix B). Peterson was described as a man of, "Vigorous mentality [and] of a rugged, yet kindly disposition... belonging to that old school of gentlemen which has produced the strong, substantial citizenship which has built the future of this country so well and so thoroughly."29


Peterson's service as Chair of the Guelph Board of Education is noteworthy in his role as author of the first articles and by-laws of the Board in 1899, which governed the administration of public schools for much of the twentieth century. As a town councillor and Mayor of Guelph in 1863, he went on to serve as Reeve of Wellington County Council, representing the Town of Guelph.30


Peterson Jr. was also known as a man of great literary and artistic talent, serving as a judge for the Upper Canada Provincial Art Exhibition in 1862 and 1863.31


In 1889, ownership of Ulmenwald was transferred to "Bill" Peterson's son, Clayton, who lived there with his wife Martha Thompson Peterson and their children, Clayton Thompson Peterson and Helen Margaret Peterson. Clayton Peterson invested in the hotel business in Regina and fell into some financial hardship, which precipitated the sale of the property.32 In 1924, the Peterson years at Ulmenwald came to an end with the sale of the property to Thomas Bedford. In 1944, Bedford sold the house and southern half of the property (south of James Street) to Edward and Abigail Palmer, who were the last residents of the estate (see Appendix A). The Palmers lived at Ulmenwald until 1948, when they moved their family to ldylwyld at 27 Barber Avenue.



Today, no physical trace of Ulmenwald remains - no gateposts, outbuildings, or street name - to mark its significant place in Guelph's architectural or cultural history. 

*Addendum: the former gardener's cottage at 75 Mary Street still stands, but has been extensively renovated.


Historic Guelph V47P28

Clayton and Martha (Thompson) Peterson, with son Clayton T. and Helen Margaret, circa 1903.

(Photo courtesy of Clayton Peterson. Private Collection).


In September 1948, the property was sold to Esther and Joseph Wolfond for 8,000 dollars, with the intention to develop the property for a residential subdivision. Joseph Wolfond General Contractors demolished the house and outbuildings during the final week of August 1952 and registered 'Plan of Subdivision' (Plan 431) in October 1952.33 Joseph Wolfond was a local builder who came from Russia in the 1920s with his father.


Ulmenwald's fate was the result of a combination of several factors. According to Palmer, the large home was very expensive to heat and required a capital investment in a new heating system. It was also on the geographic edge of a rapidly expanding city during a time when post-war housing shortages were regularly reported in the local press.34 Residential development was occurring on nearby streets - the 'Bedford Park' subdivision - was under construction on the northern portion of the former Ulmenwald property (McCrae Boulevard and lower Forest Hill Drive).35 At the time, Guelph was also struggling with re-use of large estate homes in a post-Depression and post-war economy. Ulmenwald's demise was not without community outrage. In 1949, Alderman Albert J. Frank brought forward a by-law that would allow the conversion of large estate homes over 50 years old into multiple dwelling units. A newspaper report of the time indicated that this motion was a direct result of the loss of, "Two big castles."36 Tragically, Ulmenwald's fate was sealed at a time when the heritage conservation movement was in its infancy. There were no legislative tools in place to prevent demolition of architecturally or culturally significant buildings in Guelph, or elsewhere in Ontario for that matter. Heritage stewardship was solely at the whim of sympathetic property owners. Today, Ulmenwald would easily have met the criteria for protection under the Ontario Heritage Act.


Historic Guelph V47P29

Sketch notes of Ulmenwald Property by Earl Palmer, 1942.

(Photo courtesy of Guelph Museums).


The demolition of Ulmenwald still hits a nerve with those who recall its beauty and historic presence on the hill. Earl Palmer recalled that his mother was extremely upset and regretted selling when the family learned it would be demolished. Even as a teenager, he felt the loss of his idyllic childhood playground, writing, "There was an enormous beech tree by the swimming pool. The Wolfonds cut it down immediately, much to my dismay."37 On the eve of its demise, the Guelph Mercury lamented that UlmenwaId was, "So steeped in history that it forms an integral part of the story of Guelph."38 Indeed, as a cultural and architectural tale, Ulmemwald was one-of-a-kind.


Historic Guelph Demolition V47P30

Demolition of Ulmenwald, Guelph Daily Mercury, August 30, 1952.




Table 1Summary of Ownership of Part Lot 2, Concession 3, Division G, Township of Guelph (Ulmenwald Property)39


Historic Guelph Chart V47P31


APPENDIX B: Peterson Family Genealogy


Henry William Peterson
b. May 27, 1793 in Quakenbrück, Germany
m. Hannah Ann Hendrickson, June 9, 1825
m. Harriet Middleton Clayton, February 12, 1831

d. June 12, 1859


Henry William Peterson Jr.
b. December 14, 1831 in Berlin, Ontario
m. Emma Grange

d. July 16, 1913 in Guelph, Ontario

  1. 1.1. Douglass Peterson
    1. b. August 25, 1861 in Guelph
    2. d. July 3, 1904 in Los Angeles, California
  2. 1.2. William Peterson
    1. b. April 21,1863
    2. d. January 11, 1930 in Victoria, BC
  3. 1.3. Ellen Peterson
    1. b. January 25, 1865 in Guelph
    2. d. August 2, 1865 in Guelph
  4. 1.4. Clayton Peterson
    1. b. September 22, 1866 in Guelph
    2. m. Martha Thompson
    3. d. August 13, 1939
  5. 1.5. John Dieter Peterson
    1. b. March 12, 1869 in Guelph
    2. d. March 1953 in Detroit, Michigan
  6. 1.6. Margaret Peterson
    1. b. October 22, 1870 in Guelph
    2. d. Dover, Delaware (Kent County)


Clayton Peterson m. Martha Thompson


  1. 1.4.1. Clayton Thompson Peterson m. Ardath Irene Johns
  2. 1.4.2 Helen Margaret Peterson m. Harle Long


Clayton Thompson Peterson m. Ardath Irene Johns


  1. Clayton Ross Peterson
  2. Douglass Peterson




  1. Gilnockie (Queen Street), Elm Park (Paisley Road), Ker Cavan (Stuart Street), Wyoming (Queen Street), Summerhill (Harcourt Drive), Idylwyld (Barber Avenue), Riverslea (Homewood Grounds), and Manor Park (Manor Park Drive) were home to some of Guelph's most prominent and wealthy citizens.
  2. Leo A. Johnson, History of Guelph: 1827-1927. (Guelph, Ontario: Guelph Historical Society, 1977).
  3. The Guelph Evening Mercury and Advertiser, July 18, 1913.
  4. Lot 2, Concession 3 sold to Peterson the Elder in May 1854 (Land Registry Office) Book 18, Reel 61E124. Map of Guelph in 1856 shows existence of large residence on site.
  5. A jerkin-head is a shortened gable on a hipped roof. Also known as a clipped gable.
  6. Lyndsay Haggerty, Background Report for Designation of 74 Arthur Street (Mavis Bank), City of Guelph, June 2007.
  7. Personal drawings of Earl Palmer, son of Edward and Abigail Palmer, who lived at UlmenwaId from 1944 to 1948.
  8. Personal correspondence with Mr. Earl Palmer, Lynden, Ontario, October 19, 2007.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. The Gueþh Daily Mercury, August 30, 1952.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Naomi Jotham, personal interview, Stone Lodge, Guelph, Ontario, August 2006.
  14. The Guelph Evening Mercury and Advertiser, July 18, 1913.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Hand drawn notes from Earl Palmer.
  17. The Guelph Daily Mercury, August 30, 1952.
  18. Caroline Van Sligtenhorst, Brooklyn and the College Hill, Heritage Conservation District Study, Phase 1, City of Guelph, 2006.
  19. Florence Partridge, Brooklyn and the College Hill (Guelph, Ontario: Guelph Arts Council, 1998).
  20. Naomi Jotham, personal interview, Stone Lodge, Guelph, Ontario, August 2006.
  21. Waterloo County Hall of Fame. Available at: CCC465E50CA101785256B0A004D65E8?Open Document. [Accessed August 11, 2008].
  22. A. E. ByerIy, The Peterson Diary, (Waterloo, Ontario: Waterloo Historical Society Papers, 1932).
  23. Peterson family records, in possession of Clayton Ross Peterson, from personal interview, January 16, 2008.
  24. Guelph Evening Mercury and Advertiser, Obituary, July 18, 1913.
  25. The Guelph Daily Mercury, August 30, 1952.
  26. The Guelph Herald, advertisement, October 8, 1867.
  27. Guelph Historical Society, April 2004 Newsletter. Available at http:/ / 04_apr.pdf
  28. Peterson family records, in possession of Clayton Ross Peterson, from personal interview, January 16, 2008.
  29. Guelph Evening Mercury and Advertiser, July 18, 1913.
  30. Greta M. Shutt, The High Schools of Guelph, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1961).
  31. J. Russell Harper, A Study of Art at the Upper Canada Provincial Exhibition: Ontario Painters, 1846-1867.
  32. Personal interview, with Clayton Ross Peterson, January 16, 2008.
  33. Plan of Subdivision, Plan 431, October 1952. Land Registry Office, Guelph, Ontario.
  34. The Guelph Daily Mercury, 1948-1950.
  35. Plan of Subdivision, Plan 39 No. 2. Bedford Park Subdivision, May 1945. Land Registry Office, Guelph, Ontario.
  36. The Guelph Daily Mercury, September 2, 1949.
  37. Personal correspondence with Mr. Earl Palmer, Lynden, Ontario, October 19, 2007.
  38. The Guelph Daily Mercury, August 30, 1952.
  39. Books 18 (Township of Guelph) and Book 6, Land Registry Office, Guelph, Ontario.




Genealogical information was derived from several sources:

A. E. Byerly, "Henry William Peterson", Waterloo County Historical Society Papers, 1932.

Peterson Family Papers, Private Collection, Courtesy of Clayton Peterson, Etobicoke, Ontario.

Peterson Family gravestones, Woodlawn Memorial Park, Guelph, Ontario.