Huntsville to become securityville as G8 Summit approaches

HUNTSVILLE, Ont. – In less than a month, the picturesque town of Huntsville, most known for its towering pine trees and idyllic lakes, will be transformed into a high-security zone protected by an unwelcoming metal fence and guarded by soldiers and Mounties.

For the 19,000 year-round residents, the preparations for next month’s G8 Summit have been two years in the making, but the impact it will have on their lives has only begun.

Valerie Alles lives on the hill directly above the posh century-old Deerhurst Resort where the G8 meetings will be held June 25-26.

As one of the hundreds of residents living near the summit zone, Alles and her husband will be forced to wear ID passes at all times and go through security checkpoints when they leave or enter their home that week.

"The summit is only two days so it doesn’t really justify all this security stuff," said Alles, enjoying a day at one of the beaches on Peninsula Lake, where Deerhurst is situated. "The soldiers are already camping out in town and security has stopped me a few times on my way home. My friends have seen the military apparently practicing drills on their property. In the end, I hope Huntsville gets some exposure from all of this."

The couple has been told they can’t have any visitors during the summit. Alles’ husband, a logger who carries fuel and chainsaws for his job, has also been warned he will be bodychecked each time he passes through one of the many barricades set up along a stretch of Highway 60 leading to the couple’s home. He’s still deciding whether he can afford to take the week off to avoid the inconvenience altogether.

An estimated 10,000 security personnel, including members from the Canadian Forces, RCMP, Ontario Provincial Police, and private security guards, were expected to be in Huntsville, located approximately 250 kilometres north of Toronto.

Leaders from France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States will join Prime Minister Stephen Harper for the two days of meetings aimed at tackling foreign policies on a number of topics including: labour and trade, poverty, health and the environment.

The security detail for some of the dignitaries are anticipated to be up to 50 vehicles in length.

Earlier this week, the federal government announced a $930-million price tag for security at the back-to-back summits: the G8 Summit and immediately following, the G20 Summit in downtown Toronto.

Ottawa initially estimated security costs at $179 million.

Although no specifics were released about where the money will go, the majority, $450 million, has been pegged for the RCMP. The summits will be the largest security event ever in Canada, even surpassing what was required for the recent 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games.

Most of the security and police officers will be staying at White’s Pit, a 24-hectare quarry that has been filled with rows and rows of portable trailers. Cement trucks and crews can be seen working away in the fenced-off area.

Undoubtedly, one of the major security features at the summit will be a $3.9-million fence that is being built around 324-hectares at the Deerhurst Resort. The three-metre high fence, about eight-kilometres long, will cut through the resort’s manicured golf course and into the surrounding Muskoka bush.

It’s yet to be completed but can be seen as far away as nearby Highway 60.

Last weekend, the official G8 Centre, the location where the meetings will take place, was opened at the luxury resort.

For the past few months, there has been a steady stream of construction trucks around Deerhurst as workers ready for the summit. Roads are being repaved, even the rocks along the side of the highway are being hosed down to a pristine condition.

Huntsville resident Ron Schut thinks all the preparation is much hoopla about nothing.

"We’re spending a lot of money for this," he said, walking to his pickup truck. "In the end, the taxpayers are going to have to pay for it. That’s politics."

Schut, who lives about 15 minutes from the town centre, said he and his wife will look after their grandchildren during the summit. School bus service in the area has been cancelled and teachers have told parents not to drive in their kids.

The family plans on stocking up on groceries and staying indoors, waiting for the crowds to leave town.

On Main Street in downtown Huntsville, Helen Luvison said her husband Lou said naysayers have been few and far between. The majority of the townsfolk want to showcase the reasons behind the Muskoka region’s motto: "Once Discovered, Never Forgotten."

"We’re all really proud of Huntsville and what we have to offer," she said. "We all know something like this will never happen again."

One of the ways the couple is readying for the summit is by nailing plywood to the windows of their IDA drugstore to prepare for the protesters expected to come into town.

"We bought it (the wood) because we know no one is going to come fix our windows at 3 a.m.," said Luvison, who has owned the store for 23 years. "We don’t anticipate any trouble. It’s just a precaution."

She said she’s going to have to bring all the flower boxes that dot the front of her store inside, and plans on extending working hours past 6 p.m.

The Luvisons are also stocking up their drug inventory, joking sunscreen and bug spray will likely be the big sellers.

Jeremy McClung, a pastor at the Muskoka Community Church, said the anticipation has definitely been building.

Soldiers can be seen walking around town in their fatigues and the other day, McClung said, he and his son saw two black military helicopters fly overhead in a practice formation.

"To me, this is going to be the most exciting thing to ever happen to Huntsville," he said, enjoying some famous Muskoka ice cream.

Mayor Claude Doughty said there have been few complaints about the anticipated crowds. Huntsville usually sees about an additional 100,000 people pass through town during the peak cottage season of July and August.

"The people who are apprehensive probably plan to holiday somewhere else, the people who aren’t, are here and looking forward to the event," he said. "Huntsville is made up of a lot of people who have a lot of self reliance. They’re not intimidated by crowds."

Doughty said the good news for the leaders is that black fly season should be over by the time they arrive.

"There are very few black flies. I have yet to see my first this year," he said. "The black flies are vastly overrated and they aren’t going to be a problem at all on those manicured grounds around Deerhurst. But the leaders should definitely bring sunscreen. The sun always shines in Huntsville."


Comments are closed.