Tourism grant helps realize 'Moonlight on the Bay' dream

TYENDINAGA MOHAWK TERRITORY – Standing along the shores of Jonathan and Linda Maracle’s property on the Bay of Quinte, the Skyway Bridge off in the distance to the west, is a serene scene to say the least.

On this day, the sun is shining, a hammer pounds away in the distance and a vision that has been years in the making is starting to take shape.

The Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory couple has long savoured the gorgeous view their property offers, their back yard facing the south, which often yields perfection during sunrises and sunsets.

If you ask them, those gorgeous beginnings and endings on any given day are nothing compared to the sparkle that the moon can offer across the calm waters on any given night.

Thanks to a FedDev Ontario grant through its Tourism Relief Fund, the Maracles are in the process of preparing to share their gorgeous view to any who wish to enjoy it in the form of two villas on their waterfront, each offering a perfect view and a modern look.

Moonlight on the Bay is the vision of Linda & Jonathan Maracle, its name inspired by the couple’s perfect view, the project itself located right by their next-door neighbours, who also happen to be family.

“David and KimberLee (Maracle) have a beautiful rental spot over there,” Linda said, referring to the neighbouring Lil Crow Cabin Courtyard, owned by Jonathan’s brother David R. Maracle and overseen by his sister-in-law. “KimberLee had been at me for years,” Linda said, adding that eventually, their neighbours were able to convince her to build something similar to Lil Crows on their own property.

“I started to look into it and started the planning,” Linda, who speaks through a constant smile, said.

Initially, she recalled, the dream felt impossible.

“As you know, living on an Indigenous territory, it's difficult to get loans for business funding or things like that, so I started applying to various business loan/grants we could find and sent in lots of packages, but for some reason, we just fell through the cracks of qualifying for this and that,” she said. “Then COVID hit right when I was just about to get one of the grants through the (Indian Agriculture Program of Ontario).”

When the global pandemic set in, IAPO diverted funds it otherwise would use to help projects like the Maracles’ toward helping people through the pandemic.

So the dream was put on hold again.

But Linda used her time during the pandemic to continue to research, plan and envision what could be.

“I kept researching , she said, adding that eventually her sister-in-law KimberLee forwarded her some information on FedDev Ontario’s grant program. “She said I should apply for it.”

Initially, Linda feared their project wouldn’t qualify for the funding, because it wasn’t an existing business.

“But I thought what the heck, might as well,” Linda said.

She subsequently spent several days preparing the package, explaining her inspiration, plan and even included a referral letter from David and KimberLee that supported the project.

“We discussed tapping into the tourism over in Prince Edward County, with all the wineries, beaches and beautiful restaurants and everything,” Linda recalled. “We're only 18 minutes from there.”

Lo and behold, the couple would eventually receive a call that would change their lives forever.

“Some wonderful people called to ask about our project and I think even though I don't know if we fell outside the lines, they were so excited about our project that they took a chance on us and we were over the moon excited.”

Over the moon, indeed. Moonlight on the Bay to be exact.

The Maracles’ vision, which is taking shape as you read this and expected to open in late spring/early summer, is a destination featuring two villas, both of which are positioned just perfectly to enjoy the sunrise, sunset and, you guessed it, the perfect moonlight reflecting off the bay.

“It’s called ‘Moonlight on the Bay’ because the guests would see a beautiful moonlight on the bay,” Linda explained in her kind voice with a little chuckle. She later also explained that the couple have incorporated their three children’s names into their businesses. Jonathan’s woodshop is called "Eaglewind" after their boys, who each have Mohawk middle names, their oldest ‘A:kweks,’ which means "eagle," and their middle child, Jesse ‘Owera,’ which means "wind,” while their daughter Noelle's is “Ostihsera,” which means Moonlight.

The villas will offer guests a panoramic view of the sunrise and sunset, as well as the moon through large 18-foot windows.

“It's always a good view and the position they’re in, it doesn’t matter, even if it's a cloudy day, it's a nice view,” Jonathan said.

“We moved those stakes for probably eight months, trying to figure out how they could both get the moonlight view and still be private and still not block our view too much,” Linda added.

Perfectionists wouldn’t be the right word to describe Jonathan and Linda. They’re far too humble and kind. Attention to detail would better describe the couple, who have lived at their home for more than three decades. Jonathan, ahem, "moonlights" as a world renowned musician and instrument maker, while their middle son recently became a medical doctor, and their daughter is a burgeoning singer/songwriter who recently signed a record deal. Their oldest son has travelled the world as a photographer with YWam ministries.

Their matriarch, Linda, when she’s not singing her family’s praises, is the driving force behind the "Moonlight on the Bay" project, plus supports all of her children’s endeavours full time.

Linda’s dream was emboldened by the $100,000 grant from FedDev Ontario, which is being put to use during the construction phase, which is well underway.

For so long Linda has dreamed of this destination that she knows exactly what that vision will look like.

“Two villas,” she said. “If we can obtain that look, that's the goal. We would like them to look like a touch of old world, European villa meets modern minimalistic spa. That’s the look we're going for. We want people to come here -- couples or friends…” she described, before Jonathan chimed in.

“Like a honeymoon suite,” he added.

“Yeah,” Linda continued. “(We want them to) just open the door and go ‘Wow this is beautiful. I want to come back.’”

Besides the magical view, the villas will feature in-floor heating, modern bathrooms and amenities, high ceilings, one a king size bed, the other a queen, wet bars, fireplaces, a sitting area and beautiful decks on both, leading to docks on the bay.

“It's like a hotel suite on the water,” Linda said, excitement evident in her voice.

The couple cannot wait to share their new endeavour with visitors and guests.

“(Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory) is so beautiful and if we can share what we have here, people want to get away from the city to experience just relaxing in that view and that type of atmosphere we hope to have,” Linda said. “Each villa is going to have their own little fire pit area outside with the chairs and the view, but also we're going to have a shared courtyard in between. Let's say two couples come and they're coming together and they want to enjoy time together, they can also share that or they can take turns if they would like. That's our next phase of our plan.”

The region is famous for its history and culture, not to mention fishing.

“We have two docks out there, one is 65 feet,” Jonathan said. “Both villas have deck all the way around most of it, and you'll be able to walk down to the dock and go out and have tea on the dock. And there's a separate dock we're building for the other one, so it will have its own access as well.

The couple will also offer guests information on all the tourism that the community has to offer.

“I’m a flute builder, an instrument builder,” Jonathan said. “I build drums and flutes and I travel as a musician around the world so we bring in all this cultural activity as well so people will be able to ask questions, we'll be able to give options for places to visit, in and around our community,” he said, saying there’s a well known Sugar Bush that offers tours and maple syrup, located in the vicinity of the villas, as well as many other attractions of the Territory.

“They have the option as well if they want to know more about the Indigenous culture,” Linda added.

For Linda herself, this passion project has been years in the making. More than five, to be exact. But with the buildings under construction and an opening date in mind, her excitement is exceeded only by her gratitude.

“I am so grateful,” she said. “I'm so grateful for the FedDev Tourism Relief Fund because honestly, I don't know if we could have done it without them. If we could have built it five years ago when we started making the plan … it’s really tough even with the grant to stay within our budget because at every turn, everything is more expensive or we can't get it in time so we have to get something else that costs more or there's delays. It's just crazy, but I'm so grateful.”

The work is being done by contractors from the Territory, keeping it very much local, which the couple said is important to them. And after an arduous and slow process from vision to creation, it’s coming together at long last.

“We took about a year and a half actually just to get through the planning phases of how to connect to water and sewer and all of that,” Linda said. “We did that last year and then started the buildings in August.”

“The water and sewer is already in, power is already in so the biggest and dirtiest parts of the job have happened, now it's starting to do the finishing work,” Jonathan added.

Then comes the fun part for Linda, who spent years researching and envisioning the final look.

“I’ve had three years, at least, to save pictures in Dropbox for my finishing inspiration,” she said with a huge smile.

Lime washed walls, exposed wood beams, cement bowls that use a biofuel-like liquid that extinguishes after 30 minutes, cubbies for luggage, cobblestone flooring and a gorgeous bath tub facing a window shrouded in outside greenery are just some of the features.

And, of course, many handmade items.

“The feel we're going for is very minimal but very rustic. Jonathan is probably going to be building a lot. He's going to build the bed frames, the side tables, any stools, the actual little games table if we can manage to fit one in there, the vanity shelves …,” Linda said, pointing to the dining room table we sat at during the interview as an example of his work.

“It's so much more special and it's better quality,” she added.

While the villas don’t offer kitchens, they will feature mini fridges, an electric stove top element, toaster and microwave. And, if larger groups are looking to travel together, they can book right next door at Lil Crow Cabins as well, Linda said.

The funding infusion from FedDev came with a few procedural requirements, such as reporting progress, receipts and deadlines, Linda said, but mostly, it’s come with kindness and support.

“They’re just being very supportive,” she said, adding that it is certainly above and beyond her expectations.

“It’s incredible … incredible,” she said. “I still can’t believe it. They're very, very nice to deal with. Any questions I have, they're always right there to help me. Along with the funding comes the deadlines to complete this, this, this and this. If there's ever a delay that’s out of my control, they're like ‘That's OK, thanks for letting us know and we'll make note. They’re just really, really supportive.”

As we moved through their house en route to tour the property, Jonathan showed his music studio, which was impressive to say the least, as well as his woodshop and his handmade flutes, before pointing to some signs he’s been working on.

“These are of the logo of ‘Moonlight on the Bay’ I’m going to be making," Jonathan explained.

The shoreline has been landscaped to protect it from flooding, which was a major problem a few years back. As we manoeuvre through the soft wet ground, they first show off their freshly installed window in the first villa, before climbing up inside and daydreaming about what lies ahead.

As a contractor’s hammer pounds in the distance, the couple reflects, remembering all the dreaming that preceded the reality that lies ahead.

Again, they point to the FedDev grant that gave life to their brainchild.

“That was so cool,” Jonathan exclaimed, of the day they received the call that their application had been accepted.

“When we got the call, we danced around the kitchen,” he said.

And soon enough, they’ll be dancing under the “Moonlight on the Bay.”

Jan Murphy is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Belleville Intelligencer. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Jan Murphy, Local Journalism Initiative, Belleville Intelligencer