Archive for May, 2009

Fern Resort on Lake

Fern Resort on Lake Couchiching near Orillia, Ontario.

When I was up at Fern Resort at the end of March this year, there was still ice along the shores of Lake Couchiching. Fern has been known as “The home of rolls and honey!” since 1918, when Jim Pettapiece, an Ottawa baker, bought the place site-unseen for $750. Guest rates at the time were about $10 a week. And the fresh rolls were right there in a basket when we sat down in the dining room facing the lake. So I proceeded to dig into the Crerar’s Honey and find out what all the fuss was about. True to form, despite my wife’s warnings about ruining my appetite, I didn’t stop until the basket was empty, my fingers were sticky, and the waitress was smiling at my indulgence, no doubt having witnessed this kind of behaviour more than once.
Fern Resort cottages along the shoreline in Spring.

Fern Resort cottages along the shoreline in Spring.

I had heard about Fern Resort before, of course. Anyone who works in the tourism business in Ontario has heard about Fern. But this was the first time I had visited. My partner and I were doing a two-hour presentation to a group of Resorts of Ontario members at their Annual General Meeting the next morning. We’ve done this kind of thing many times before and it can be intimidating. But resort owners seem to be an extremely friendly bunch, probably because they spend their whole lives attending to the needs of their guests, and they made us feel right at home.
The presentation went very well and then after a big lunch (more rolls and honey), Mark Downing showed us around his resort.
It’s a sprawling series of cozy cottages and larger guest houses hugging the lakeshore, interspersed with a golf course, bocci ball, tennis courts and all the distractions one would imagine at a classic resort. Parts of it have a carnival feel, even during the shoulder seasons when there are less people around. It really says, “This is a place where people come to relax and have a good time.”
No Reservations Fern Resort Uncensored book cover

No Reservations – Fern Resort Uncensored book cover

Mark pointed out the in-room jacuzzi tubs and hi-speed wi-fi, the modern conference facilities and Bergwen’s magnificent ballroom, but he really got my attention when he started talking about the history of Fern Resort. Stories of romantic adventure, intrigue, tragedy, pranksterism, business success and adversity going back over a century is what I like. I like the stories. Mark’s extended family is moving into its fifth generation at Fern Resort and some of his guests have been coming every year for almost as long. It’s enough to fill a book. In fact, they have filled a book. You can pick up a copy of No Reservations at the check-in counter for about 20 bucks.

Fern Resort is one of the founding members of Resorts of Ontario, which was established in 1942.

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The Ridge at Manitou, next door to the Inn at Manitou. Photo credit: Clive Barber

The Ridge at Manitou, next door to the Inn at Manitou. Photo credit: Clive Barber

One of the advantages of working in the Canadian tourism industry is that I get to play a lot of golf on different courses across the country. In the province of Ontario where there are over 800 courses to choose from, we’re working with Resorts of Ontario this year. Many of its one hundred resort hotels, lodges, country inns and cottage resorts either have golf on-site or they have playing privileges at private and public courses nearby. Several have famous golf architects attached to them like Brookstreet‘s Trent Jones course near Ottawa. It’s owned by Sir Terry Matthews who also owns the Celtic Manor in Wales, the venue for the 2010 Ryder Cup. Others may not be as well known but they still offer challenging play. A couple of weeks ago, I asked the resort owners if they would send me their golf news for 2009. Many included their new golf packages as well and there are a number of good deals. Here’s is just a small sample of what I was sent:

Pine Vista Resort in the Kawartha Lakes, is partnering with Wildfire this year, a new McBroom-designed course just five minutes away. • Clevelands House in Muskoka, has its own ‘executive 9’ which is great for families and this year it is also packaging with The Rock, the redesigned Nick Faldo course, one minute away. Also in Muskoka, Deerhurst Resort has a new Island & Highlands golf package that includes a round of golf for two at Deerhurst Highlands and Bigwin Island. Its 18 hole Lakeside course is also good for families. • At Bayview Wildwood, guests can opt to play two out of five courses on a two-night package offered all summer long with dinners and breakfasts included, starting at $344pp/do. The choice of courses are: Hawk Ridge, South Muskoka GC, Bonaire GC, Lake St. George GC and Settler’s Ghost. • Closer to Barrie, Carriage Ridge Resort partners with Settler’s Ghost, Horseshoe Highlands with Horseshoe Valley and Hawk Ridge, and has an early spring rate starting at only $89pp/do. • The Briars on Lake Simcoe, has a mid week spring special that includes two nights, two breakfasts and two rounds of 18 for just $129 per person per night based on double occupancy. Cart is additional.

Lots more can be found by clicking on “Golf” at Resorts of Ontario.

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It’s a family business at many Resorts of Ontario. Some resorts have been owned and run by the same families for generations. And it’s not uncommon to hear of guests who have returned to their favourite resort for decades. Many of the resorts’ histories have been documented too. Here’s a small sample.

In the early 1920's the Mordolphton Camp was sold, renamed Severn Lodge and opened to the public.

In the early 1920's the Mordolphton Camp was sold, renamed Severn Lodge and opened to the public.

Back in the late 1800s fishing and hunting clubs were all the rage in Ontario. Present-day Severn Lodge once served as the Mordolphton Club, a private Pittsburgh-based fishing club with wealthy railway men as members. They would travel by private Pullman car to Waubaushene before making their way to the club on the north shore of Gloucester Pool near Georgian Bay. The fishing is still great in this region of Ontario. Just ask anyone at Muskeys Landing in Port Severn where fishing is a main activity.

Fern Resort uses a tagline first coined by the owners’ great grandfather; “The home of rolls & honey”. He was a successful Ottawa baker in the early 1900s. His famous buns are still baked daily and served with his favourite honey, Crerar’s, which has been making honey in eastern Ontario since 1914.

Fern Resort has been run by the  family for five generations.

Fern Resort, near Orillia, has been run by the same family for five generations.

One of Haliburton’s first pioneers, James Holland planted the trademark willow trees that still grow along Willow Beach Cottage Resort’s waterfront in Haliburton.

Viamede Resort, Pine Vista Resort and the Irwin Inn are all part of a remarkable Stony Lake community steeped in tradition. An example is the annual Stony Lake Regatta which is almost a century old. This year it will be held on August 3rd.

In 1946, the Chernuck family left Russia to begin a new life in Canada. By chance they noticed a Montreal Gazette classified announcing a large farm for sale on Rice Lake and they purchased it for $10,000. Today the land is still owned by the Chernacks and is known as Golden Beach Resort.

The marina at Golden Beach Resort on Rice Lake.

The marina at Golden Beach Resort on Rice Lake.

The Delawana Inn Resort in Honey Harbour first opened its doors in 1897 as Victoria House. For 15¢ you could take the steamer Odessa from Midland across the bay to Honey Harbour and the hotel. Under the Grisé family, it became the Delawana. My friend Janet, a Cleveland-area travel editor, still has fond memories of vacationing at the “Del” in the 1950s with her family.

When Charles Minnett, the original owner of Clevelands House in Muskoka, ordered his hotel’s first register in 1883, he asked the printer to label it Cleeve Lands after his birthplace in England. The printer mistakenly changed the name to Clevelands, and it was never corrected.

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Lake of Two Rivers, Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada

Lake of Two Rivers, Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada

I first heard about Resorts of Ontario in the 1980s while working as a young travel counsellor at 1-800-ONTARIO, the official call centre for Canada’s second largest province. People would phone from all over North America wanting advice on the best places to stay in Ontario where they could swim, fish, eat, golf, hike, canoe, see fall colours, or even dogsled. Resorts of Ontario always had something, given its large membership and the locations of its resorts – the bulk of which are lakeside and at nature’s back door.

That was the case with a BBC crew I worked with many years later as a PR consultant for Ontario’s tourism marketing agency. The crew asked for a lake, log cabin and moose and we found it all at Killarney Lodge in Algonquin Park. The resort is on a peninsula of land surrounded by water and parked outside every cabin is a red canoe. Can you say Canadian? Killarney’s wonderful log cabins were built about 70 years ago. Their log interiors have aged over time and have this wonderful patina. Outside, each is painted a dark brown with red trim and has a little porch.

The BBC gals and I were arriving late, so we telephoned ahead to let the  resort owner know. Since the dining room was closing, the kitchen staff arranged for our dinners to be delivered to our cabins and so the three of us gathered to eat a great rib dinner.

Now the thing about an Ontario provincial park is that the wildlife are permanent residents, not us, so my antennae went up when a persistent young raccoon showed up at the girls cabin door wanting in. The BBC gals  thought he was the most adorable creature they’d ever seen and I think they were ready to extend him a welcome. Cute maybe but these masked bandits are cagey critters and I had taken careful notice of the resort’s suggestion not to leave food in the cabin overnight. So we chose to leave our dinner trays in the resort lounge, a beautiful stand-alone building with a small library, board games, hot coffee, tea and a tray of freshly baked cookies. The light was still on in the place and a male guest was reading a book as we placed our trays inside and toodled off to bed.

In the early morning, I went looking for coffee in the lounge and that’s when I discovered that the guy reading the book the night before hadn’t had the good sense to close the lounge door and GUESS WHO had had a field day. I was MORTIFIED. That raccoon and his buddies had cleaned off what was left on our trays, gone through all the homemade cookies, dumped all the sugar, and ripped apart the tea bags. I skulked out of the place to the BBC girls’ cabin to deliver the bad news. That’s when I heard a staffer’s long wail from the lounge, “Those damn raccoons have been at it again.” Somehow, hearing her wail that it was not the first time that the lounge had been trashed, made me feel just a tiny bit less guilty.


A canoe is never far away at Killarney Lodge. Photo:Christopher Dew

A list of resorts near Algonquin Park can be found here.

Link to map of Algonquin Park

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