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FERN   History

Fern Resort has enjoyed a long and varied history. From the first owners in the late 1800’s, to the Downings today, the Fern Resort name is synonymous with customer service. Your stay at Fern will be one that you look back on with fond memories.

“The fun, fine food and hospitality you’ll experience at Fern have been developed into a solid tradition by four generations of our family (and there’s a fifth generation now growing up at the resort.) We, the Downings and Nelsons, have a genuine concern for the comfort and well-being of our guests. We hope you’ll truly enjoy your stay.” In 1918, ancestors and founders Jim & Mimi Pettapiece coined the slogan “The Home of Rolls & Honey.” Today, rolls made from Jim’s recipe, and honey from the same apiary, continue to grace the tables at Fern.

To better understand Fern Resort, we welcome you to explore our history (click on the dates below.)

Fern – A Namesake

A log cabin built on fern covered rocks, inhabited by a hermit, was known as “Fern Cottage” by the residents of the Orillia area in 1867. Upon the hermit’s death, the McBain family built their home on the same site as the tumble-down cabin. Although she had 11 children to care for, warm, hospitable Mrs. McBain could always make room for visitors at her table. In the spring of 1894, Mrs. McBain’s kindness was to begin the growth of a flourishing summer resort.

The Discovery – Resort by Accident

A stagecoach en route to Longford Mills, then an important rail centre on the Trent Waterway System, broke down three and a half miles from its destination, at the end of the road to the McBain house. Mr. Weaver, a passenger from Buffalo, asked for shelter for the night for the group of American travellers and received a warm welcome and aid from the McBain family.

1_upto1895

OWNER:
Mr. & Mrs. John McBain

STAFF:
McBain family & children

SEASON:
3 weeks

ROOMS:
0, just 2 camp sites cleared by John

HEAD CHEF:
Mrs. McBain invited the Weavers over for dinner on Sundays

PRICE:
$0.00

The Ball in Motion

The following spring, in 1895, the Weaver family wrote to the McBains and asked if they could camp on their lovely property for three weeks. Their summer holiday that year was such a success that the following year they returned with another family to the campsite cleared by Mr. McBain. Mrs. McBain catered to the two families for some of their meals during the holiday and in her mind, she began to foster the idea of making some extra money for her large family by catering to vacationers as a business. The following summer, the McBain children were moved into the large attic while their bedrooms were rented, and a “Summer Home” offering fresh air, sunshine and good food for $6 per week had begun.

1_upto1895

OWNER:
Mr. & Mrs. John McBain

STAFF:
11 McBain children

SEASON:
2 months

ROOMS:
2 camp sites & 3 McBain children bedrooms

HEAD CHEF:
Mrs. McBain

PRICE:
$5.00 per week, with a special season rate available

The Ball in Motion (continued)

The year 1906 brought the addition of the first Guest House, built by Mr. McBain after a few successful years of business. The three storey building containing twenty-one rooms (with no bathrooms or electricity) showed Mr. McBain to be a great craftsman indeed. The building stood until 1985 when tradition had to give way to practicality and upgrading and the Guest House, or “Mariposa Inn” as it was known at the end, was torn down.

3_1905-1915

OWNER:
Mr. & Mrs. John McBain

OPERATOR:
Mr. & Mrs. Kenny

STAFF:
9

SEASON:
2 months

ROOMS:
23

HEAD CHEF:
Mrs. Kenny

PRICE:
$8.00 – $12.00 per week,

Tried it… Didn’t like it…

As children everywhere influence their parents, the McBain children convinced their parents to move to nearby Orillia; they resented the business and its influence on their lives.

First Generation – Anyone Want a Resort?

Mr. McBain leased the business to an Irish family, the Kennys, who lasted only three summers. Mrs. Kenny’s Irish temperament was not suited to the business; she could not always see eye to eye with the summer guests.

Mr. McBain, in several business trips to Ottawa, met a jewelry salesman, Samuel Breadner. By coincidence, Mr. Breadner’s sister and brother-in-law were not able to renew the lease on their summer hotel business at Norway Bay near Ottawa.

After much convincing, James A. Pettapiece, a master baker, brought his wife and their three children, Gwen, Ross and Ola-Mae, to a new life at “Fern Cottage” in 1918.

In… Over Their Head

Their arrival was not uneventful. A horse and cutter team, hired to take them across Lake Couchiching, broke through the ice as they approached the shore, throwing the entire family and all of their worldly goods into the shallow, freezing water.

When the whole family had been brought to shore, over snowdrifts twenty feet deep, Mimi’s spirit and willful good nature showed through as she said, “It will be beautiful when the snow melts in the spring.”

The Front Five or the Back Five?

In 1919, golf was becoming the main sporting interest in many circles and James Pettapiece decided to build a golf course to keep up with the changing times.

His assets were limited… he had a cow pasture, bounded on two sides by water and on one side by bush, and completely covered with the perennial fern-covered rocks… and no money.

Undaunted, he began clearing and shaping and constructing greens with only the help of his horse, “Niagara”, so named because she was old and constantly falling. In five years, there was a crude form of golf course.

Throughout the years the old golf course has proven itself to be a sporty course and has overcome things like tile beds and tennis courts, bowling alleys and staff quarters. The course has seen just about everything, everything but another hole… or two!

With a great love for the business, Gwen worked hard with her parents despite many hindrances such as the lack of plumbing and electricity and the tragic childhood deaths of both Ross and Ola-Mae Pettapiece.

By the 1920’s Fern Cottage had been transformed into one of the most popular holiday resorts of its kind in Ontario.

Pettapieces1200

OWNER:
Mr. & Mrs. James Pettapiece

STAFF:
15

SEASON:
2 1/2 months

ROOMS:
37

HEAD CHEF:
Mr. Pettapiece

PRICE:
$15.00 – $20.00 per week

Second Generation – The Engineer to the Family

In 1928, Gwen Pettapiece married George Bertyl (Bert) Rumble, an engineer, and moved to Philadelphia – returning every summer with her daughter, Mary Lou, to work with her family in the business.

Upon the death of Gwen’s father in 1935, Bert Rumble decided to give up his engineering career and devote his time to continuing the success of the resort. The decision was not an easy one during the depression, but hard work and devotion to the resort by the whole family made the business flourish once again during the 1930’s.

Gwen_Bert

OWNER:
Mr. Bertyl and Mrs. Gwen Rumble

STAFF:
40

SEASON:
2 1/2 months

ROOMS:
51

HEAD CHEF:
Mr. Rumble with help from Mimi Pettapiece

MAINTENANCE:
John Simcoe

HOUSEKEEPING:
Mrs. Anderson

PRICE:
$18.00 – $22.00 per week

Who Do You Know…

The war years, again, brought new twists to the business. During the war Bert was called on by Canada as a civilian engineer for the RCAF.

On October 1st 1939, Bert Rumble packed up for Ottawa two weeks before closing, leaving Mary Lou and Gwen to finish up the season.

Bert’s services did not leave Fern ‘Bertless’ for the summer. In the spring, Air Chief Marshall Lloyd Breadner (note the last name) found it necessary to fire Bert Rumble each summer so he could go back to Fern for the next season. This did not relinquish him from his duties for his country – his office was there next October with a summer’s worth of work on the desk.

3_1905-1915

1945

OWNER:
Mr. Bertyl and Mrs. Gwen Rumble

STAFF:
40

SEASON:
4 months

ROOMS:
57

HEAD CHEF:
Elwood Simcoe

MAINTENANCE:
John Simcoe

HOUSEKEEPING:
Mrs. Anderson

DINING ROOM:
Gwen Rumble

OFFICE:
Buela Perrin

PRICE:
$32.00 to $45.00 per week

Good Luck or Good Management

Just before WWII, Bertyl fell prey to a slick salesman who sold him 200 lbs. of black pepper. Mimi was teaching Bertyl the particulars of running a resort when this happened and would not let him live this down. Consequently, however, Fern was the only resort in Ontario to have real black pepper during war years. Thank you Bert.

3_1905-1915

1955

OWNER:
Mr. Bertyl and Mrs. Gwen Rumble

STAFF:
40

SEASON:
4 months

ROOMS:
71

HEAD CHEF:
Elwood Simcoe

MAINTENANCE:
Carl Fawn & John Simcoe

HOUSEKEEPING:
Sarah Wilson

DINING ROOM:
Mary Lou Rumble

OFFICE:
Lee Latimer

PRICE:
$42.00 to $75.00 per week

Third Generation
How ya gonna keep them down on the farm?

Mary Lou married Robert Downing from Port Dover, Ontario, in January 1958.

Robert graduated from Ryerson at the age of 21 and was hired as the Assistant Manager of the Hudson Bay Company’s restaurant in Vancouver. The restaurant had a seating capacity of 750 and staff of 130. While at the large national company, Robert learned the workings of a large multi-faceted business, an experience that no doubt helped in the development of Fern.

One of the policies at the Hudson Bay Company at that time was that managers have a working knowledge of the whole company. What can be said about this is “can you see Robert Downing selling lingerie at the age of 22 in 1958?”

Robert and Mary Lou were real tourists that summer and enjoyed visiting friends on Vancouver Island and in the Okanagan Valley, Calgary, and Banff and Jasper National Parks. Robert and Mary Lou lived in Vancouver for 2 1/2 years and then were transferred to Saskatoon to open the new restaurant division for the Hudson Bay Company.

“I’ll Help for Only One Year”

The year after their arrival in Saskatoon, the Rumbles asked Mary Lou and Robert to come back to the resort as Mrs. Rumble was ill. So in 1961 Robert Downing, who vowed to “never work in the resort business” came to Fern for one year – that one year has been stretched to the present day!

Changing of the Guard

Family businesses are not like regular businesses in which the transition time between bosses can be counted in seconds on one hand. In family businesses you can use one hand but you have to count in denominations of years. Authority is transferred, assumed or stolen from one generation to another over time.

Married the Boss’s Daughter

Robert Downing approached his job with confident aggression. Changes and new policies came flying in all directions. Not everyone embraced these policies with open arms and warm hearts.

The girls from the dining room protested change by throwing themselves into the water with their uniforms on. Not one to be daunted by the tribulations of his new job, Robert fixed the situation by hiring an all-male wait staff the next year. Waiters were not considered “IN” in the resort industry so Fern was the first to have males waiting on tables. As the only waiters in the industry they all acquired female nick names – some of which have stuck to this day.

The head chef was trained by Bert Rumble from day one. He did his job well but had an unfortunate habit of just not showing up for work some days. Bert accepted this idiosyncrasy of the chef. Robert was not as understanding and told the chef the next time he did it he would fire him, and he did. This did not sit well with Bert and he hired the chef back one day after Robert had fired him. The story ends with Robert proving his point and with help from Mary Lou was able to convince Bert to let him go.

While power shifted from the one generation to the next, there was need of a mediator. This compromising position was personified through Mary Lou. She had a tight rope walk between her father and her husband. Hats off to Mary Lou.

The Winter Months

At this time the resort was open for the summer and closed for eight months of the year. During these winters the Downings busied their days with many different projects. Teaching, farming, jumping horses, managing a bar, designing record covers and managing a music group were all on the winter “to do” list.

Fernwood Trio

In 1962, three gentlemen from the resort started up a group, called themselves The Fernwood Trio, and asked Robert to manage them. They played at The Club Of Two Levels as the house band during the summer, and toured eastern and western Canada during the winter. They produced two LP’s and six singles, did many radio and television appearances, and climaxed their careers by playing Massey Hall. After two years of fun and frolic the boys went back to university.

Dealing with Disaster

March 23, 1964, brought disaster to Fern Resort; fire engulfed and destroyed the entire main building.

Through tremendous co-operation and hard work, employing every construction worker within a 10 mile radius of the resort, there was a new Main Inn within 81 working days. The Inn was opened on schedule, June 20th, 1964.

Secondly, Gwen Rumble passed away that year, but not before seeing the new building open on time, and knowing the resort was to continue as the respected resort to which she had devoted her life.

Robert_MaryLou

OWNER:
Mr. Bertyl Rumble and Robert & Mary Lou Downing

STAFF:
85

SEASON:
6 months

ROOMS:
71

HEAD CHEF:
Robert Downing

HOUSEKEEPING:
Sarah Wilson

DINING ROOM:
June Lawson

OFFICE:
Carla Palmer

PRICE:
$120.00 to $130.00 per week

Fourth Generation

Eric George, the fourth generation, arrived at Fern Resort in November, 1965. Laura Carole Downing followed in January, 1967 and Mark Howard Downing in October, 1969.

Because children have a settling down effect on people, and Eric was at school, Fern opened to become a year-round vacation and convention centre in 1970. The big winter activity at that time was snowmobiling and Fern had its own snowmobile club, “The Snow Bees.” It was this club’s charter that Eric later adapted for his own club. Mr. Bert Rumble enjoyed the aspects of a year-round resort but only saw four years of it. Mr. Rumble passed away in July, 1974.

The transition to year-round operation proved highly successful and a period of exciting growth followed under the leadership of Robert and Mary Lou Downing. Adjoining land was acquired, new buildings constructed and all facilities enhanced – doubling Fern’s capacity. As a result, corporate use of the resort increased dramatically.

Family-photo1

1975

OWNER:
Robert & Mary Lou Downing

STAFF:
150

SEASON:
12 months

ROOMS:
104

HEAD CHEF:
Ted Parrott

MAINTENANCE:
Ralph Downing

HOUSEKEEPING:
Verna Morris

DINING ROOM:
Carole Woodhouse

GEN. MANAGER:
Carla Palmer

ASST. MAN.:
Gery Alison

PRICE:
$120.00 to $225.00 to $250.00 per week

The Road from Dish Washing to the Office

Taking the advice of The Hudson Bay Company, Robert had the fourth generation, Eric, Laura and Mark actively involved in all phases of Fern operations at an early age.

Working on weekends and summer vacations, the children learned how the resort worked from the teachings of experience.

November, 1990 was darkened by the sudden tragic passing of Eric George from an undiagnosed heart ailment, acute dissecting aneurysm of the aorta. Only 25, he was in his graduating year at Ryerson in Hotel and Resort Management, looking forward to working full time at the resort in the spring.

April, 1991 saw the marriage of Laura to William David Nelson. Laura had graduated from St. Mary’s University in Halifax in Political Science. Bill graduated with Honors in Psychology and Biology from the University of Toronto.

In 1993 Laura Nelson was appointed Human Resources Manager and Dining Room Manager. With this new duty, Laura organized committees which set up formal channels for staff to organize social and work related activities at the resort. An employee appreciation program was also established.

Also in 1993, Mark Downing was appointed Assistant Manager and Bar Manager and was responsible for overseeing the Waterfront. On May 25th 1996, Mark was married to Daniela Tulipano of Orillia. Daniela is a graduate of the University of Toronto.

Downing_Photo

1985

OWNER:
Robert & Mary Lou Downing

STAFF:
150

SEASON:
12 months

ROOMS:
104

HEAD CHEF:
Donna Smith

MAINTENANCE:
Ralph Downing

HOUSEKEEPING:
Jean Thompson

DINING ROOM:
Carole Woodhouse

GEN. MANAGER:
Larry Lapointe

ASST. MANAGER:
Nancy Morrow

PRICE:
$455.00 to $510.00 per week

The Fifth Generation

On the 1st day of June 1992, Laura gave birth to Kassandra Lou Nelson, the fifth generation of our family at Fern Resort. May 8th, 1996, Ashly was born to add to the changing face of the Fern Family.

1995

OWNER:
Robert, Mary Lou & Mark Downing and Laura Nelson

STAFF:
150

SEASON:
12 months

ROOMS:
104

HEAD CHEF:
Joe Readman

MAINTENANCE:
David Monahan

HOUSEKEEPING:
Jean Thompson

DINING ROOM:
Laura Nelson

GENERAL MANAGER:
Larry LaPointe

ASST. MANAGER:
Mark Downing

PRICE:
$775.00 to $820.00 per week

fun_on_the_water

FUN ON THE WATER

With close to two kilometres of waterfront there is so much fun to be had on, in and around Lake Couchiching. And as if that is not enough, we have two outdoor pools, one indoor pool, hot tubs saunas and steam room. See how you can enjoy the water at Fern.

keeping_busy

KEEPING EVERYONE BUSY

Join our sports staff daily in one of 8 age appropriate scheduled activities programs Our sports directors are experts in having fun leading you through a range of activities, fun tournaments and crafts. And we don’t stop there. Each evening head to Bergwen’s theatre were a range of professional entertainers will have the entire family laughing, shocked and amazed. See our entire weekly line-up.

fun_your_way

YOUR FUN, YOUR WAY

What is it you need to relax when you get away? Is it pushing your self in an activity, getting in touch with nature, sharing a laugh with a friend or simply taking time for yourself? No matter how you define it, we have the facilities and atmosphere to make your time with us rewarding.

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Families

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Couples

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Groups

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