Developer seeks deal on historic Michael’s Bay site

TEHKUMMAH—A prospective buyer for the Michael’s Bay townsite and other properties associated with Manitoulin’s favourite ghost town, once the largest bustling commercial centre on the Island, has approached the Michael’s Bay Historical Society and Michael’s Bay cemetery advocate Doug Tracy regarding his plans for the site.

Jean Marc Pellerin, a Toronto-based developer (who prefers to go by the abbreviated moniker of JM), confirmed that he is currently in negotiations to purchase the 650-acre property, including the Royal Michael’s Bay restaurant and chalets associated with the property, with an eye to “building resort-style living, seasonal and year-round tasteful homes. In addition there are plans for a hotel on the property—a resort.”

The benefits of his plans to the community are fairly evident, noted Mr. Pellerin. In addition to adding to a resort setting which will have a positive impact on local property values, Mr. Pellerin notes that the addition to the municipal tax base would prove to be substantial. “There is a lot to be gained from potential development,” noted the developer, “provided we all can stay focussed on that goal. We want to respect the historical location,” he added. “But people have to appreciate what it is we are trying to do.”

Mr. Pellerin said that this was not a case of a southern Ontario developer coming North to run roughshod over the community.

“We don’t really know much of anything for sure,” said Michael’s Bay Historical Society president Ed Sagle, who confirmed that he did speak with a gentleman who identified himself as Jean Marc Pellerin, who had indicated plans to develop the site with new housing. “He came to one of our meetings,” said Mr. Sagle, indicating some skepticism. “He had some big ideas, talking about a lot of money, millions for this, millions for that. Hopefully, something will come of it.”

Mr. Tracy, for his part, said that he had received a call from an individual who had simply identified himself as JM. “He said that he knew all about me,” said Mr. Tracy. “That I was a retired funeral director and a ‘disturber’,” indicating that he did not object to this last characterization.

Mr. Tracy said that his conversation with the alleged developer was somewhat confrontational, an evaluation that Mr. Pellerin did not disagree with. “I told him no way he was going to build houses on the foundations of our ancestors,” asserted Mr. Tracy, who has stated concerns about at least three cemeteries he claims are located on the townsite.

Mr. Pellerin was adamant that, while he was willing to work with the groups, he needed some clear evidence of what is located on the property. “I was very clear to Mr. Tracy, I am not just taking anyone’s word on anything,” he said. Mr. Pellerin noted that he had received a number of anecdotal references as to what is located on the Michael’s Bay property, a clear reference to the cemetery issue. “No matter who I talk to I get a different story,” he said. “I spoke with the province and they said they don’t know exactly what is there. We do want to respect people’s wishes, we do want to respect past generations.”

Mr. Pellerin said that he was disturbed by the level of reaction he had received from some people. “I was told by Mr. Tracy that unless I handed over a minimum of 10 acres I was going to have a lot of difficulty,” he said. “He told me I better fear coming to the Island, I better fear people coming on the property, I better fear being a developer.”

As a result, Mr. Pellerin said that he has been in discussions with the RCMP and Claire Van Dromme (one of the Belgian property owners) and that he would consider taking steps to bar people entering the property. “I cannot put myself or anyone else at risk of anything,” he said.

Mr. Pellerin said that he was expecting to meet with the Tehkummah town council. “I have been invited to meet on January 7 to discuss my plans,” he said. “I intend to be very open and candid.”

As to the archeological and historical concerns about the site, Mr. Pellerin said that he was making arrangements to engage a “well-respected firm’ to complete a phase one archaeological assessment of the property before the deal is closed. “It will have to take place in the spring. Obviously, we have to wait for the property to dry up,” he said. He has already applied for an extension to the offer to purchase in order to facilitate dealing with those issues.

Mr. Pellerin noted that he has also offered to sell the property of concern to the Michael’s Bay Historical Society. “I said ‘make me an offer’,” he said. “I will be happy to consider it.”

In discussions with the society’s members, Mr. Pellerin said he got the impression they believed the property could be restored with a retro-village for $500,000. Mr. Pellerin said he believed that estimate was woefully inadequate to finance any construction of such a project.

As to the property’s status, as befits its history, it is slightly confusing. Seized by the RCMP on behalf of the Belgium government as the proceeds of crime following a trial in Belgium involving the illegal sale of cattle steroids, the fate of the property has been tied up in legal limbo for several years.

Mr. Tracy contends the property must be signed off by the Van Drommes, the RCMP and the Belgian government. Mr. Pellerin said that was not accurate. “Only the Van Dromme’s and the RCMP need to sign off on the deal,” he said. “The property can be sold, that isn’t an issue. Any funds from the sale would be held in trust by the RCMP until things are worked out with the Belgian government, but the sale can go ahead. As to the sale itself, the Belgian government doesn’t enter into it.”

In a sidebar complication, an Internet search for Jean Marc Pellerin turned up a Sudbury Star story on a Georgia State court civil dispute in which a judgement against Mr. Pellerin, then described as being of Hanmer, ordered him to pay two American businessmen $8.4 million for “intentionally defrauding them.”

Mr. Pellerin readily agreed that the story was about him, but noted that the issue arose from a domestic dispute with his former wife and he disputed nearly all of the claims made in the Star article. Mr. Pellerin pointed to the failure of the plaintiffs to bring the claim forward to Ontario for enforcement as vindication of his position. “They wouldn’t bring it here because they knew they would have to prove their claim here, and they couldn’t.”

Mr. Pellerin pointed out that Georgia is a state in which a plaintiff does not have to serve the other party. “They just have to deliver the notice to the last known address,” he said. That address, maintains Mr. Pellerin, was his matrimonial home with his estranged wife. The claim in Georgia, he said, was decided in favour of his former partners by default, as he did not know to show up for the proceedings. “It is all there in the court records,” he said. “You can look it up.”

“The first I learned of all of this was when a business associate called me just as I was headed out to the cottage for the weekend,” he said. “He said you better pick up a copy of the paper—he wouldn’t say why.”

Mr. Pellerin pointed out that the newspaper had attempted to contact him at the same matrimonial address where he had been ‘served’ for the Georgia claim.

Mr. Pellerin said that although he has entered a statement of claim, he has not yet pursued the claim in court as his counsel had indicated it was best to complete other legal matters first, but that he did intend to take action.

“This kind of thing could happen to any businessman,” said Mr. Pellerin, although he admitted the ordeal did take its toll. The domestic dispute caused him to be incarcerated a number of times, noted Mr. Pellerin, but he noted that part of the ordeal ended when the presiding judge dressed the Crown down. “It was the worst divorce case in Ontario history,” said Mr. Pellerin, who has since moved on with a new partner, “a wonderful lady who I have been with for four years. I took a bit of time to work things out.”

Mr. Pellerin said that he is looking forward to moving his project in Michael’s Bay ahead and that he would not back down from intimidation. “I told Mr. Tracy that this isn’t my first barbecue,” he said. “This will be good for the community and it is a great project with a lot of potential for the Island.”

Michael Erskine