BY LINDA MONDOUX
“New boaters can’t believe what we have here,” says Rob Campbell of Toronto, a seasonal boater at Roque’s Marina in Killarney. “It’s become an extended family up there.”
“It’s like home,” says Anne West, a former Sudbury resident who continues to boat out of Roque’s, even though she now lives in Alberta. “Pat and Mary are awesome.”
Pat and Mary are the husband and wife team whose name is proudly displayed on a sign at 65 Channel St., where you’ll find their family-run marina and campground at the west end of the Killarney Channel, on the north shore of Georgian Bay.
The marina, built from scratch beginning in 1997, has been voted No.1 by readers at MyNewWaterfrontHome.com, who were asked to email their nominations for “Best Marina” in Ontario. Read our Top 10 list
That a marina in a village of just over 300 people would have so many loyal returning boaters voting for it says much about Pat and Mary Roque, both as businesspeople and as members of their community. Truly extraordinary, however, is that these same boaters have happily adopted the Roques, their friends and their community causes as their own.
As the Roques have shown, extraordinary things can happen when family and community play a leading role generation after generation.
Pat and Mary’s immediate family includes three grown children — Neil, Melanie and Erin — and 16-month-old grandson, Bryce. There are another 300 or so members of the extended Roque family, who gather in two separate clans for reunions every five years.
When it comes to family and community, however, there is always room for more in Pat and Mary’s lives. This is the story of how the Roques came to inherit a whole new family — the boaters and campers at Roque’s Marina — and how the youngest Roque has inherited dozens of new aunts and uncles who keep an eye on him while he’s out exploring the property once owned by his grandfather.
In the beginning ...
Ferdinand Roque, according to KillarneyHistory.com, is the forefather of all the Roque families in Killarney. Born in 1827 in Boucherville, Quebec, he was well-respected for his long service to the community, both as an interpreter for the Jesuit missionaries he served as they travelled to minister to the Indians — Roque had learned the Ojibwa language — and later as a church leader in his adopted village of Killarney. When he died in 1907, he left behind 10 living children (nine boys and five girls were born to Roque and his half-Indian wife Marguerite Recollet, with at least six orphans also sharing the couple’s home), 77 grandchildren and 52 great-grandchildren.
The Roque family (pronounced “Rock”) has grown larger over the years, with descendants scattered across the country, though many still live in the Killarney-Sudbury area.
Among them are Pat Roque and his wife, Mary, (also née Roque, but of the Wikmemikong First Nation, while her husband is a member of the Wahnapitae First Nation), who grew up in Killarney, but spent several years away before returning in 2002.
Is was five years earlier, in 1997, that the Roques decided to build a marina business on the family waterfront property that had last been owned by Mary’s father, Basil Roque, a commercial fisherman who turned to the tourism industry as a guide in later years.
“When we started, we were living in Sudbury and both had other jobs,” recalls Mary, who still works 12-hour shifts as a nurse in the city. “We had three teen children at the time and took turns running the marina. The whole family was involved.”
Today, son Neil, who lives in Sudbury, still works at the marina during the summer. Over the years, Mary enlisted the aid of young nephews from Manitoba and Thunder Bay, who were thrilled to spend the summer in Killarney, helping out where needed — until they reached the age of 16, when other interests took over.
'You might as well barbecue with us'
“When I ran out of nephews of the right age, I got the visiting grandson of a Killarney woman each summer,” Mary recalls. “He really enjoyed it — I actually got him until he was 17! We’ve always had good kids.”
Pat, who was a travelling heavy-equipment mechanic at the time, remembers there was a lot of hard labour involved getting the marina and campground ready for business. “The grass was about three feet high and there were steel barges to tear down,” he says. “We started building it up a bit at a time.”
The lawn area has been turned into a serviced campground, where 12 trailers can be accommodated. There are laundry and shower facilities on site, along with ice — both blocks and cubes are made here. There’s also a small marine store.
As an ode to the past, the old shed where the fishing nets were once repaired was turned into the main office. “There’s a lot of history in this old building,” says Mary. It’s outside, on the deck, where the bond with the boaters was born.
With Sudbury a good hour’s drive away, there was no going home for lunch when on marina duty in those early years. “We would eat on the deck and things just spilled over from there,” Mary says. “The boaters would come over and we said, ‘You might as well barbecue with us,’ and that’s how it all started. It’s a real family atmosphere.”
Now, the boaters get together on that deck every weekend for communal dinners. “This Friday, it’s barbecued bologna,” says West. “On Saturday, it’s wingfest. On Sunday, the Roques will have the end-of-season party at their house. They supply the food. Boaters and campers — everyone’s invited.”
The way Mary sees it, the annual Labour Day party is not only “the last chance to say goodbye” for another season, but to thank everyone for supporting the Roques’ many community causes and helping out at the marina when needed.
'The boaters showed up in costumes'
“I had been doing a fundraiser every year for the new health centre ... a dinghy poker run, an auction ... and everyone came out to support it,” says Mary. “This year, our 60-year-old St. Bonaventure’s Church needed some stonework, so partly as a fundraiser and partly because it’s fun, I did a fundraising ’50s party. The boaters showed up in costumes.”
Pat even has the boaters helping him cook up fish and french fries for the annual fundraiser he organizes for the volunteer firefighters. And when the deck needed fixing, everyone pitched in to help.
“It’s a tight-knit group,” says West.
In return, the Roques introduce new boaters to business owners in the village to make them feel at home. And at the marina, Pat’s special brand of personal service does not go unnoticed.
“The channel gets a lot of wind,” says Campbell, whose boat has been docked at Roque’s each season for the past eight years. “Pat’s out there tying the boats up making sure there’s no damage. He gets down in the engine and gets dirty with you. He’ll lend you a spare part if you need it. He’s very attentive to all of this.”
One special service all appreciate is shrink-wrapping of the boats for winter, so boaters don’t have so much to do to get them ready for the new season, which for the majority starts on the May 24 weekend and ends on the Labour Day weekend.
Pat admits he’s popular, but says he works hard to keep boaters coming back.
'Once the boaters are here, I like to keep them here'
Ken Smith, in a blog posting about a 2007 boating trip to Killarney, tells the story about how a one-night stay at Roque’s Marina turned into a two-night layover when fog rolled in so thick “that people can’t see the bow of their boats.” He got the last slip at Roque’s.
As evening approached and the fog refused to lift, Roque’s received frantic calls from boaters sent packing from other marinas, because boaters who had reserved space for the night were coming in. “Roque’s moved their seasonal boats around and did not ask anyone to leave and made room for everyone that came in,” Smith wrote.
Pat says he received a lot of business over the years from boaters kicked out of other marinas. “You don’t want them running around blind,” he says of his decision to take seasonal boats across the channel to make room for transient boaters in need. “Once the boaters are here, I like to keep them here. Then they tell someone else, who tells someone else. All the boaters are all friends of ours now.”
In fact, Roque’s Marina is now so popular that there’s no room left at the docks. Pat is preparing to expand by adding new steel docks next spring that will allow room for about 20 more boats. There are currently 38 seasonal docks and 20 transient docks, making Roque’s the second-largest of the five Killarney marinas.
Pat is also working on obtaining his flag showing that Roque’s is an eco-rated marina. Eco ratings are achieved in an audit covering more than 200 environmental practices. Of the Top 10 Best Marinas, six were eco-rated. Pat said he only heard about the program last year, and has been working on meeting the audit requirements. “I’m hoping I will have that flag in 2011,” he says.
Mary says she and Pat, who’s 57, have been thinking about how best to transition into retirement over the next 10 years. “I don’t want Pat doing all that heavy labour,” she says. As for Mary, now 55, she plans to retire in five years from her full-time nursing job. But she likely will still be filling in on the nursing station in Killarney village, which was accessible only by water until 1962, when the first road was built.
'He belongs to the marina'
“It sure beats driving to Sudbury for a fish hook,” she says of the nursing station. “We’ve had boaters phone in with an injury and we’ve taken them over to the health centre. We laugh and say we’re a full-service marina. When we found out one of the boaters is a hairdresser, we said ‘what are you waiting for, get on deck and start cutting hair.’ So she did.”
It’s the “incredible community” created by the friendly, hard-working couple that the boaters so treasure, says Campbell. "Roque's is a great marina due to Pat and Mary," he says. "It's become a small community."
And thanks to the friendships created at Roque’s Marina, a group of boaters also gets together every year for the Toronto Boat Show, and gathers in Owen Sound for an annual social gathering. “It extends the season,” Campbell says.
Mary says she’s grateful for the boaters’ friendships, which she said made “a humongous difference in the children growing up,” because they learned to talk to adults. Toddler Bryce is learning that lesson fast, with boaters only too eager to strike up a conversation with the youngest Roque, who loves running around the lawn between the house and the office. “He belongs to the marina,” says Mary of her grandson.
It’s while looking to the future that Mary wonders, only half in jest, “How will we ever retire — we’ll lose all our friends!”
When asked what she has learned through the marina venture, Mary is quick with a response: “We’ve learned that friends mean a lot. You work hard and life is good.”
MyNewWaterfrontHome.com — September 2010