Category Archives: Family

Ten awesome things about Fern Resort


Our family travels with a couple of other families to Fern Resort for a week every August, and we’ve done this for the past 11 years. We love our week at Fern, not only because the food is great and there’s lots to do, but also because we’re all so familiar with the place so the kids have a lot more freedom there than they generally do.

Other than the obvious “someone else making meals for you”, “you don’t need to clean up”, “lots of fun things to do” which are true for Fern and many other resorts, here are ten awesome things unique to Fern, in no particular order:

1. Peanut butter pie

A creamy peanut-butter-flavoured pie with a chocolate crust and whipped cream and chocolate syrup on top. Nothing else to say but OM NOM NOM.

2. Mike Stewart

Mike has been the sports director at Fern forever. If you have ever been to Fern, you have met Mike. If you’ve been a few times, he likely knows your name. He runs tennis, volleyball, basketball, badminton, bocce, shuffleboard, all the trivia games, and more. He is also the MC and one of the performers for the Show Time! show (see below). He’s friendly, he’s outgoing, he’s helpful, he’s LOUD, he’s always smiling, and he don’t take no crap from nobody. He’s got a lot of good stories – ask him about the time he bought the Zamboni. Another good one is when a guest and her husband asked him to join them for… well, he may not tell you all of that one.

3. The Bad Boys line, the Irie line, the No Problem line, the Go Get a T-Shirt line, and the O Canada line

You haven’t played bingo until you’ve played bingo called by an frenetic Jamaican dude with big mirrored sunglasses. Crazy D is the bingo king of Fern. Bingo can be a pretty boring game but when Crazy D is calling it, it’s always fun. He’s got more energy than half the Playvillage and always gets people pumped and excited about N34 and G49.

4. Four-way beach volleyball

This is an absolute must for me every year – Monday at 1:30. Standard beach volleyball except that there are four courts arranged in a square with nets between them in a cross. You can serve and return the ball to any of the other courts. Always a fun game even when there’s eleven or twelve people per team, all playing at the same time.

5. Rolls and honey

Putting honey on fresh squishy rolls is definitely a Fern thing. Every year we buy a dozen rolls and some honey to bring home.

6. The kids programs

If this list was in order of importance, this might be #1. Kids from 0 to 17 have programs specifically for them run by counsellors who are fun and friendly and outgoing. For kids 0-6, we have the Playvillage. There’s a nursery for babies, an area for toddlers with swings and stuff, a big climbing structure, a ball pit, diggers, a track for motorized jeeps, a couple of trampolines, a water play area, a little amphitheatre for shows, and the “craft caboose”, where they make all kinds of crafts. They have snacks, go for walks around the resort, and take a tractor ride called the Honey Bee Express. I have to say it’s awfully cute seeing a bunch of 3-6 year olds on the Honey Bee waving to everyone and singing their “mighty mighty Playvillage” song. The best part is that the Playvillage is open from 6-7:30pm, which is (not coincidentally) during dinner, so you can feed your kids from 5:30-6:00, take them to Playvillage, then enjoy a nice relaxing kid-free dinner, knowing that your kids are being cared for and are having fun.

There are also Junior programs (7-9), Youths (10-12), and Teens (13-17). They do lots of sports and other activities, crafts (tie-dye T-shirts are very popular), practice skits or songs for Show Time, and sometimes just hang out and chill. This year the Juniors and Youths began programs during dinner times so parents of kids that are too old for Playvillage can have a quiet kid-free dinner as well.

7. Chocolate monkeys

Invented by Lou, who’s been a bartender at Fern for 29 years. Creme de Cacao, Creme de Banane, ice cream, half a banana, and chocolate syrup. Yummy. The kids can get a virgin one that’s just as good.

8. The guest video and Show Time

There’s a photographer / videographer walking around the resort all day every day. On Thursday night they show a video with lots of pictures and video of volleyball games, water skiing, dancing on the pool deck, kids playing at Playvillage, pedal carts, swimming, rock wall climbing, golf, tennis, and all of the other Fern activities. It’s fun to look for people in your group, and of course the kids love looking for pictures of themselves. After the video is Show Time, a lip-sync show hosted by Mike Stewart and performed by the staff including sports, Playvillage, and kitchen people, the odd manager, and even the owner’s kids. Some of them are well-choreographed dance numbers while others are comedy songs that have everyone in stitches. Either way, it’s a lot of fun and the talent of the staff is evident.

9. Mushball

Baseball with a mushy mini-soccer ball rather than an actual baseball so no gloves are needed. The staff play on one team, the guests on the other, and I’ve seen guest teams with 40 people. This makes for a long ad-hoc batting order that frequently changes between innings. Despite being vastly outnumbered and intentionally “blowing” plays involving small children (“Oh look, he dropped the ball, Ashley! Run to first, quick!”), the staff wins every week… or so they tell us. The game was a little different this year since they introduced paintball which happens at the same time, so all the teens were out doing that. The guest team this year consisted of about 5 adults and 20-30 kids under 12.

10. The Downings

With most resorts, the owner is an invisible corporation but Fern is a family business. The Downing family have owned and operated Fern for over 100 years, and the current generation running the place consists of Mark Downing and his sister Laura. Mark, Laura, and their respective spouses and daughters are frequently seen around the resort, and a couple of the girls are old enough now to work there. Mark is as friendly a guy as you’ll ever meet, and both he and Laura host (and tend bar at) a cocktail party on Thursday nights specifically for alumni (i.e. guests who have been to Fern several times) where the drinks and snacks are free. Mark’s father Robert is retired but you still seem him around the resort, driving his golf cart labelled “Robbie’s Rocket”.

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Halloween Pumpkins 2010


We had a good crop of pumpkins this year. Each of us did one and then I did a second one. Ryan actually stuck his hand inside the pumpkin and pulled the guts out! First time ever! Nicky was not so brave – he didn’t want to get his hands messy, so Gail had to clean his out. We do not have mud-pie kids.

Halloween was dead this year! I’ve written this entire blog entry without being interrupted once by kids at the door – and it’s currently 8:45. We bought a box of 95 mini chocolate bars and still have about 1/4 left – and I was giving two out to each kid. Didn’t even open the second box. Our first year in this house, we went through almost three boxes @ 1 per kid.

RockPumpkin

My Toronto Rock pumpkin. I printed out an image of the logo and Gail and I (mainly Gail) figured out how I could carve it into the pumpkin.
SmileyPumpkin Yes, I’m a geek. ;-)
GailsKitty Gail did the kitty cat from a template, but added the stars herself.
RyansWelcome Ryan carved this one himself from a template. Pretty tricky.
NickysSkull This was from a template as well, but once his pumpkin was cleaned out, Nicky carved it himself.

Ian McAdam


Last summer, our family travelled to England and Scotland and while in Scotland, we met up with a number of aunt, uncles, and cousins of mine. We spent a great evening with my cousin Ian and his wife Lesley at the racetrack in Hamilton – I wrote about it here (July 11). Last week, Ian passed away suddenly. He was only 45.

Ian was quite a character – charming and very outgoing with lots of personality, but not to the point of being obnoxious. Well, not usually, anyway. We didn’t really know each other very well since we lived on different continents our whole lives, but whenever I saw him, he always treated me like we were best friends. I was unaccustomed to this. I grew up in Canada, while all my aunts, uncles, and cousins live in Scotland and England. Whenever I did travel to Scotland or they travelled here, there was always some awkwardness because we were family but didn’t really know each other. Ian didn’t care about that – we were cousins, and so when we were together, we were going to have a good time. The night we went to the racetrack, I think Ian felt like the host – this was his country and his town (he saw a few friends of his while we were there), and so he was going to make absolutely sure we had a great time. And he succeeded.

We were visiting my Aunt Sandra in the morning when Ian called looking for us. He suggested we go to the racetrack while Aunt Sandra babysat his girls and our boys. When we arrived at the racetrack, there were hundreds of other people there as well, and the lines for food were very long. We were hungry, but we didn’t want to wait in the long lines, so we decided we’d get dinner later. We went and got our betting forms and some drinks, since the drink lines were much shorter. Ian and I got beer, Lesley got wine, and Gail just had water. Ian asked if she wanted wine or beer or something else instead but Gail said no because alcohol can affect the medication she takes for her diabetes. Gail has Type 2 diabetes and it’s completely controlled by the medication – she doesn’t need insulin shots, and she’s pretty much free to have whatever food (sugary or not) that she wants. Once Ian heard that Gail was diabetic, he got an idea. He asked what Gail wanted to eat and Gail said that the BBQ pork sandwich sounded pretty good. Ian said “I’ll be right back” and dashed off towards the food stand. He returned just a few minutes later with a couple of sandwiches and a couple of orders of fries chips. We asked how he got them so quickly with such a long lineup, and he just said “don’t ask”. We suspected that he had run up to the front of the line and shouted “I have a diabetic woman who needs food right now!”, which was technically true, if a bit misleading – it’s not like she was in danger of passing out if she didn’t eat right away. Gail and I felt a little guilty eating when others were still waiting in line, but we were pretty hungry and the food was good so the guilt didn’t last long.

My mother reminded me of a similar event that happened when Ian came to Canada as a teenager for a visit. We went on a day trip to Niagara Falls. While walking around Clifton Hill, Ian went into a candy shop, mainly because of the pretty girl behind the counter. He talked to her for a little while and managed to talk her into giving him free fudge, but not just a bite or two – he came out of the shop with fudge for all of us.

Ian was a big guy with a big personality and an even bigger heart. From our conversations that night, I know that Ian was very proud of his 20-year-old son Martin and adored his two little girls, Alexis (7) and Zarah (3). As I said we didn’t know each other well, and he had only met Gail twice, but there was no question in my mind that Ian would have moved heaven and Earth to help us if we needed it, because we were family and that’s all that mattered. I know he holds a special place in my sister’s heart as well. He will be very much missed by his Canadian cousins.