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G8 summit comes and goes, leaving permanent mark left on Huntsville region

HUNTSVILLE, Ont. - The G8 summit came and went in this community as alargely uneventful event for locals, but the $50-million in federalfunds doled out across cottage country will leave a permanent mark on aregion.

HUNTSVILLE, Ont. - The G8 summit came and went in this community as a largely uneventful event for locals, but the $50-million in federal funds doled out across cottage country will leave a permanent mark on a region.

“You can't buy the national press saying Huntsville, Huntsville, Huntsville for months,” said Bob Stone, the owner of a year-round Christmas store on Huntsville's main drag.

“Now that it's happened people have seen what kind of place it is with the beautiful surroundings.”

While publicity like that is priceless, there's also a lot a region can buy with $50 million.

An airport 100 kilometres away from the summit received $5 million in funds for upgrades. More than $1 million went to sprucing up a street and replacing trees in Parry Sound, Ont., some 80 kilometres away.

Huntsville received the lion's share of the fund. That, combined with the natural beauty of the area, seems to have left an impression.

Several police officers told Stone they'll bring their families back for summer vacations.

Two buildings constructed in part with G8 money ended up seeing very little summit action, but will become integral parts of Huntsville's economy.

The Summit Centre and a University of Waterloo environmental research facility were both built in part with money from the legacy fund. The Summit Centre was originally planned to be a media centre and it was thought the university building would serve a security purpose.

The community centre, now called the Summit Centre, got a huge addition and now, alongside the hockey rink and swimming pool, the centre is equipped to host large events. It hosted a youth summit event.

Huntsville is hoping to capitalize on the building to attract “events tourism,” said Mayor Claude Doughty.

“We've got (the band) Blue Rodeo here next Wednesday night,” he said. “We're calling it our legacy party.”

The Waterloo building hosted one youth event Friday night with Gov.-Gen. Michaelle Jean.

In the fall it becomes a University of Waterloo research and learning facility for environmental and ecological sustainability. It will help the town “transform our economy into more of a knowledge-based economy,” Doughty said.

“It'll be a legacy of success,” Doughty said of the summit, “a legacy of really exemplifying the best Canada can be to the world.”

Despite all the money poured into Huntsville and environs, only one leader was spotted outside the security fence that surrounded the summit.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and about 15 delegates from that country stopped into Tall Trees Restaurant for dinner Thursday, where the president enjoyed a selection of Ontario cheeses and local venison.

“The truth is we spruced up the town and it turned into a bit of a love fest and people are snickering at us,” said Randy Spencer, owner and executive chef of the restaurant on Huntsville's Main Street.

“The biggest let down was on the Saturday, our own prime minister, we didn't even see him even wander through town.”

Tourists who do wander through cottage country in the weeks and months to come should see a lot of improvements.

An area just south of Parry Sound received more than $700,000 for signs, fencing and landscaping in the towns of Rosseau, Humphrey and Orrville. Other cottage country communities also benefited from tens of thousands of federal dollars for signs and landscaping.

Uncertainty last year over how leaders would arrive in Huntsville saw the airport in North Bay, Ont., receive $5 million from the fund for upgrades. Millions more were poured into the airstrip from an airport capital improvement program.

In the end, leaders arrived directly at the Deerhurst Resort in Huntsville, mainly by helicopter, after flying into Toronto's Pearson International Airport.

Spencer questioned whether the spending on “superficial” improvements in Huntsville might have been better spent on social programs.

“The legacy it's going to leave, we got some pretty new buildings, as long as we can afford to maintain them in a small community,” he said.

Spencer hopes someone will invest in a fund to ensure young athletes can afford to play hockey in the new arena and soccer on the pitch.

“We made the town pretty, we built these buildings, but now let's put something aside for here.”

 
 
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