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Article: Create an inspiring experience at Cruickston Park: A blend of the old and the new.

Create an inspiring experience at Cruickston Park: A blend of the old and the new.

Create an inspiring experience at Cruickston Park: A blend of the old and the new.

Welcome to Cruickston Park, a haven nestled at the confluence of the Grand and Speed rivers, where centuries of built history intertwine with the splendour of old world inspired elegance. The roots of this extraordinary estate date back to the 1700s, revealing the early settlement and trading activities of the area, including the very first settler, Nathaniel Dodge.

The surviving Dodge cabin encapsulates the essence of a bygone era of wilderness, trapping, and trade. Its timber logs, hand hewn ceiling, and stone hearth remain as they were which emit a certain calm and romance of an earlier time.

The property later changed hands to William and Elizabeth Ashton from NYC.  They built a microbrewery along its creek, a popular business during this time, and christened it "Cruickston Brewery".  They went on to design the first phase of a glorious manor, anticipating a thriving business.  However, their dream wasn’t realized before they were forced to sell the property to another, albeit renowned, New York family, the granddaughter of the original John Jacob Astor.

Rather than spend their summers in their mansion up the Hudson River, Matthew and Eliza Wilks chose to purchase a property squarely within the Empire.  They made massive alterations to the manor before moving their large family there - doubling it in size and adding an array of infrastructure necessary for large scale farming.  They opted to raise cattle and horses and won acclaim by competing in fairs both locally and in New York.  They gave their youngest daughter and spinster, Katherine Wilks a life interest in ‘Cruickston Park’ where she focused on the breeding and racing of standard bred horses.  ‘Aunt Kate’ created one of the largest and most successful stock farms in the western world, supported by newspaper reports and trophies:  The greatest being first prize in the Kentucky Futurity (1929). During her tenure, Aunt Kate purchased adjoining farmland to amass an estate of 1,400 acres.

The property thereafter passed to Matthew Wilks’ grandson, Matthew Wilks Keefer (aka ‘Wilks). He chose to emphasize cattle breeding with the intention of improving overall herd quality in Canada, and achieved that end by upgrading the accepted standard, and by producing exemplary Hereford cattle confirmation, which was adopted by the agricultural community, including the University of Guelph.

Wilks Keefer died without an heir and therefore prearranged to gift the entire 966-acre estate to the University of Guelph with the hopes it would perpetuate into future generations.  This wish became an impractical requirement for the school over time.  The temptation to develop the estate was frustrated by a handful of local activists that influenced the ultimate treatment of the property.

Quite by chance a young couple, Mark Fretwurst and Jan Chaplin researched the intention of the Wilks’ family for the property and approached the University with a simple solution to nurture and restore it.  In the process, they warded off regional road development plans by creating The Cruickston Charitable Research Reserve (later renamed ‘rare’) as a means to preserve its natural history, while conducting ongoing, unbiased research to ensure its scientific uniqueness is shared, also becoming a model for financial self-sustainability.  Their vision was made possible by the late James D. Chaplin’s who encouraged the couple with loans and the adage: ‘The sky is the limit’. Today, the estate flourishes as a testament to Mark and Jan’s unwavering dedication. Under their stewardship, both the natural and built heritage are safeguarded, allowing for timeless celebrations to

 Left: Cruickston Park Manor between 1896 -1949. Right: Mark Fretwurst and Jan Chaplin with University of Guelph President and Vice President c. 1997.

The Overall Beauty of Cruickston Park 

At Cruickston Park, the allure of quiet luxury sets the stage for unparalleled experiences. The estate, adorned with meticulous details and historical significance, produces a captivating ambiance that seamlessly blends old-world charm with modern sophistication. From the grandeur of the 1858 manor, the rustic charm of its 1792 log cabin, to the formally curated ‘kitchen’ garden - every corner of Cruickston Park exudes an understated elegance that promises to elevate your experience to the realm of timelessness.


The Charm of Cruickston Manor

The 18,000 square foot historic manor, dating back to 1858, stands as a singular and extraordinary backdrop for events.  Regarded at a distance or in passing, its existence anchors all the venues with its regal and stately presence.


Cruickston Walled Garden

The design retained the former layout, originally producing 4 large squares situated on either side of a central path.  Each square was squared twice more, resulting in a total of 64 squares. There is only a single planting in each one which in concert produces a dramatic affect.  There are sweet grapes lining the perimeter of the stone wall, interspersed with yellow sedum and purple lavender. The garden perimeter is framed by a 10 ft high stone wall that offers a sense of seclusion and intimacy while opening up to a picturesque setting of rolling hillside that unfolds naturally.

Cruickston Park's walled garden, a living canvas of nature's splendour, complement the historic manor to create a harmonious union between the past and the beauty of the present.  It is the source of culinary, visual, and aromatic health which forms a major part of our offering.

Above: Cruickston Park’s walled garden in the summer.

Accommodation Overview

Cruickston Park’s accommodations were created out of the existing built infrastructure dating back to 1792. Each one has been interiorly designed to accentuate the building’s original use and era. These accommodations are intended to delight our guests and open their hearts and minds.

Hilltop House: Originally built to retain bachelor farmhands as they moved into their phase of married life. Its circa is 1950, signalling a period where young adults considered a broader array of lifestyle options beyond farmhand. With three spacious bedrooms, 1.5 bathrooms, and an open-concept kitchen, this cottage comfortably accommodates up to 6 guests. Large picture windows invite a dialogue with passing wildlife, while the private backyard features a bbq and entertainment area, a fire pit, and ample natural space.

Cedar Side House: Nestled just a stone’s throw away from Hilltop House, Cedar Side House is a similar construction to that of Hilltop House and offers a cozy atmosphere with luxurious finishes. Ideal for gatherings, or couples seeking a retreat, this cottage sleeps 4 guests and has one bathroom. The fully equipped kitchen features an open concept dining area and living room, large exterior deck, bbq, fire pit, and a beautiful green wall, perfect for capturing picture-worthy moments.

The Stables: A captivating abode in a tranquil setting, The Stables exudes quality, and unique charm. This residence, with three bedrooms and two and a half bathrooms, once housed carriages and farmhands.  It has now been transformed into an aesthetically astounding experience. The winding country road approach leads to a two-story yellow brick building line by spruce trees and lilac bushes. Inside, a stylish interior features a large living area with an extraordinary white marble fireplace, vaulted ceilings, kitchen, and three thoughtfully curated bedrooms and bathrooms. The exterior porch offers views of old growth oak trees and a bbq for after-hours gatherings, creating enduring memories.

Coming Soon - Trapper's Cabin: Steeped in a long history, Trapper's Cabin, built in 1792 by Nathaniel Dodge, offers a romanticized, rustic retreat. The cabin features the original stone hearth, a fully equipped kitchen, a cozy loft bedroom with two queen-size beds, and a bathroom complete with a soaker iron tub. The cabin sits on a noll overlooking the water buffalo pond and field, the covered porch provides an ideal setting to observe the movements of the herd and passing wildlife, such as coyote and fox.

Coming Soon - Stone Cottage: A spacious 4,000 square foot home dating back to 1871, Stone Cottage is our centrepiece venue.  It was built with the original farm manager in mind, like Mr. Weatherall, the second son from a prominent English family; well educated, but no inheritance since the practice was to concentrate a family’s wealth in the first son. With a long, open covered porch and a large, private backyard defined by a 10 ft stone wall, it's perfect for intimate events. Each of the three bedrooms feature an ensuite bathroom, and the rest of the household includes a fully equipped kitchen, living room, dining room, 2 main level bathrooms. Originally designed by New York architect Detlef Lienau, The Stone Cottage offers a beautiful century home, replete with historical significance.

Above: The Stone Cottage

Cruickston Park’s Farm-to-Table Offering:

Cruickston Park’s history is steeped in the tradition of Old-World farming.  It’s a time-honoured practice that is the source of life and cadence.  Every season offers nature’s bounty as it unfolds. Cruickston Park continues its farming tradition and culture which forms the basis of the property. It is its own terroir, and as such Cruickston offers seasonal and naturally grown garden produce, farm fresh eggs, grass-fed meats, and forest floor harvests.  We not only use traditional farming methods, we measure our soil quality, to prove out our ability to regenerate good, nutritious soil.  After-all, we wholly believe the quality of any society is a function of its soil quality.  


Capturing Timeless Moments: 'At First Glance' Photography Backdrop Offerings

Transition into the world of Cruickston Park with our specially crafted 'At First Glance' photography offer, designed to transform your extraordinary moments into timeless works of art. This exclusive offering ensures that your cherished day is forever etched in memory, offering an awe-inspiring first look and a captivating photo session against the backdrop of one of two choices.

You and up to ten of your dearest friends and family will have the opportunity of capturing intimate moments. The package includes one hour of dedicated coverage, providing ample time to encapsulate the magic of your special day with the flexibility of two photographers, to ensure every angle and emotion is expertly captured.

Pose in front of the grandeur of the manor, where the architecture adds further elegance to your photos; or immerse yourself in the beauty of our walled garden, enhancing the natural essence of your keepsakes.

Let 'At First Glance' be the beginning of your lifelong journey, beautifully capturing the magic of the moment.


Our Event Venues: An Overview

The Trio: The ‘Trio’ represents the Stone Cottage, The Stables, and Trapper’s Cabin, physically situated as a collective in close proximity to each other, yet individually private with the natural separation of spruce trees.  A stone wall around the perimeter of the Stone Cottage yard delineates its spacious lawn edged with a tall stand of trees. Collectively these 3 buildings can sleep up to 10 guests; two of the kitchens can accommodate caterers; alternatively, we can offer luxurious, high-end dining from our personal culinary chef and full service for up to 120 people.

Walled Garden: Our garden venue provides an intimate atmosphere in a natural setting, perfect for smaller weddings. We recommend up to 80 people.  This venue ensures a sense of closeness avoiding the vastness of open spaces.  Ceremonies can be choreographed down the centre isle pathways. An open-air tent can be placed under our mature walnut stand, adjacent the glass greenhouse and open pasture.

The Manor Exterior: On an exceptions basis and in season, we offer the exterior of the manor as a venue for ceremonies and celebrations.  Placement for a tent can be located near the well, underneath a mature maple and adjacent the garden stone wall and garden pond. The manor as a backdrop to such an event punctuates the setting with grandeur.  We recommend up to 150 people, dependent on tent size required and services.

To ensure mutual success, we require our guests contract a professional event planner to plan and implement your venue of choice.



Important Links and Resources:

Our Venues:


THE TRIO ( Link not available. Coming soon!)



Photography Packages:



Guest Houses: