The $4-million fence -

The $4-million fence

And other strange and annoying contrivances, as pre-summit security invades cottage county


Photograph by Colin O'Connor

Huntsville, a town of 19,000 three hours north of Toronto that, at any other time, rarely locks its doors, has started to look increasingly like a prison. For one thing, a shimmering three-metre silver fence is suddenly snaking across farmland, abutting highways and dissecting dense bush, weirdly incongruous in an Ontario wilderness immortalized by Group of Seven progenitor Tom Thomson, who, as Huntsville Mayor Claude Doughty puts it, “used to hang here back in the day.” The $3.9-million perimeter, erected by a local construction outfit, stands as a great leveller in a region long divided by class—a quicksilver bullet slipping past tony monster cottages (the “cottage-o-cracy,” as one resident calls the upper crust here) as blithely as it does the hillbilly housing a stone’s throw away, all rotting cottages crammed with overturned furniture and bric-a-brac.

Then too, the military has descended, building enormous barracks in an old gravel pit north of town; with room enough for 5,000 security personnel—or so the rumours go—the installation spreads across the landscape larger than either the local Tembec hardwood flooring plant or the Kimberly-Clark tissue factory.

The makeover is in preparation for the $1.1.-billion 2010 G8-G20 summit; Huntsville is to host the smaller half of it in two weeks, lending the town a topsy-turvy air. Every available patch of dirt has been sprayed an eerie shade of Martian green—hydroseed that should sprout grass just as the world leaders arrive. Many here have put their homes up for rent, calling them “G8 Houses” and charging upwards of $1,000 a night.

Elsewhere, Art and Betty Rhiness, who have lived in their remote home outside town for 42 years, say they’re not worried that the pasture across the way is Huntsville’s designated G8 protest zone. “They’ll be doing all their protesting on Main Street,” Art, 75, says knowingly.

The Canada Summit Centre—Huntsville’s new $20-million rec centre, built with G8 funds—began life as Huntsville’s media centre until OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino objected, according to one source, saying a media presence would put summit attendees in danger. Instead, in Toronto, at a cost of $1.9 million, organizers are building a display complete with a fake lake called the Canadian Corridor, meant, in a Capricorn One kind of way, to replicate the experience of being in Muskoka.

But on Sunday, police and military personnel used the Summit Centre to showcase the police and military arsenal that locals should expect to see around town. That show included small children outfitted as riot police and handed nightsticks and assault rifles—a funny circumstance in a town where school buses won’t be running in the week leading up to the summit, when schools are discouraging student attendance.

Huntsvillians are already well acquainted with the G8 brigade. Since last winter they have been approached by a parade of law-enforcement reps and attended a series of oddly uninformative information sessions. (“It’s all hush-hush,” says a 74-year-old woman who lives metres away from the military compound but who learned of its existence only through hearing its construction. “A lot of people are getting fed up with it—there’s a lot of old widows on this street, yet.”)

Elaine Rye, 69, lives in a bungalow not far from the summit’s security command centre above Deerhurst Resort, the golf playground where the G8 leaders will congregate, and says authorities told her to remove chairs from out front, keep her lights on at night and to defer her annual ritual of setting garden ornaments up in her yard (a constellation of 15 tiny cement platforms were sadly bereft of garden gnomes last week). “They’re calling this the red area!” she says. “I just know I’m getting out.”

Nancy Tapley, of the nearby Bondi Village Resort—an old-fashioned Muskoka holiday spot of cottages and horses—says her beds are booked for the summit, though the guests will be G8 security rather than vacationers, people Tapley says she’s “pretty damn sure aren’t coming back.” As for Bondi’s regulars, she says, “everybody’s gun shy, nobody’s spending.” Like many here, Bondi finds itself on the wrong side of the highway connecting Huntsville with Deerhurst. Tapley recalls one RCMP officer assuring residents, “We’re not closing any of the roads—however, there will be no through traffic.”

Indeed, those with homes off Highway 60, the thoroughfare in question, soon learned it would close and that they too would be behind fences: a barrier is going up this week that skirts the road and traverses residential driveways, with security personnel manning gates 24 hours a day. “They’re letting you in and out of your own driveway,” says 74-year-old Darcy Roberts, a retired hydro worker. “They’re going to search you when you come back. It don’t seem too Canadian to me!” Residents signed waivers permitting authorities to chase protesters onto their lands.

All this promises to make for unusual living. “We’re supposed to get some kind of passeport,” says René Hecht, referring to the security pass card some residents will be issued giving access to off-limit roads. An 87-year-old retired clothing designer who lives with his wife, a doctor, at the foot of Hidden Valley Highlands Ski Area nearby Deerhurst, Hecht, a Frenchman, expects traffic jams. “I was thinking they could have the meeting at Alcatraz or Sing Sing,” he adds. “They are already very well protected.”

In January, Kim Groomes, the 42-year-old pastry chef at Spencer’s Tall Trees, an upscale Huntsville dining spot, received a visit from the RCMP, who asked for her date of birth and, of all things, her social insurance number. Groomes, who lives with her husband and young son, gamely submitted to the request. “This is what I found kind of cagey,” she says. “About a month ago, a car comes up—two OPP plainclothes. And they’re like, ‘We’re here to get your information.’ ” When the Groomeses discovered authorities had “misplaced” their files, they became concerned. “I mean—there’s your identity,” she says. The officers said not to worry: “It’s probably just in a pile somewhere.”

Meanwhile, Doughty, the mayor, takes little notice of all the security hoopla. “The Andy Warhol moment will come and go,” he says. A former dentist turned developer, he is more interested in making sure the G8 facilities the town is inheriting as part of the summit’s legacy are built to spec. Port Sydney, south of Huntsville, got a $1.2-million fire hall, paid for by federal stimulus dollars that Doughty says probably would not have flowed had the G8 not stopped by. At a $12-million University of Waterloo environmental research facility receiving its finishing touches in Huntsville, Doughty marvels at what the G8 has wrought. “This was all bush here a year ago,” he says proudly. He strides through the Waterloo complex with the bluster of the developer he once was. The foreman asks what colour the railings should be. “Gun metal grey,” says the mayor. “Black is going to be too stark.”


The $4-million fence

  1. Yet, somehow, looking like a prison is somehow more acceptable to Canadians than having armed Canadian Forces personnel on our streets according to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews. WIth the Toronto fence, that's a total of nearly $9 million for the fencing budget alone. Obscene.

    From Question Period today, it was announced with pride that 3500 media personnel had requested security clearance. I would imagine that providing security clearance is somehow part of the $1 billion spent on security for the 72 hour lollapaloza. Rather than spending time (and money) accrediting 3500 media personnel, why don't the host countries set a limit to the number of employees that each media outlet can send or force them to pay the cost of the accreditation?

  2. Canada is rapidly becoming a fascist country. I am very afraid of our government and the direction this county is taking. I hope the security officers that read this enjoy the power and the fear they are creating among ordinary Canadians.

    • Bruce, do take a nice warm cup of camomile tea and lie down for a wee rest.

  3. This no fascist move.

    This is called a security perimeter. In a post 9/11 world, one would think you understand these things…I guess not. Why do you think you have to go through "customs" to fly within your own country? Stop being naive.

    Security costs money, lots of it.

    Why are police forces being deployed and not more army personal? Well, that should be obvious…police are trained to evaluate and control situations in the most expedicious way with the minimum of collateral effect.

    The military, with the exception of the MPs, don't have this training. They are trained to control a situation with a maximum of predjudice, if you understand my meaning.

    • You most certainly do NOT go through customs when flying within Canada! When did you last take a flight? The fences are brute force ignorant means to control security, rather than "intelligence" and on-the-ground good old fashioned policing. 9-11 is simply an excuse to pile insanity on insanity.

      • Al queda threatened the football game in south Africa, because the USA was playing. Do you really think we haven't chnged since 9/11, where do you live.

        • Richard lives in the same ideal dream world as all the other bleeding heart Liberals. Let's stick our heads in the sand and the terrorism problem will go away is their thinking.

    • While you make a valid point re security and costs, your claims about military training, and "customs", are factually incorrect. Debate points are more successful when grounded in reality.

    • Actually, the army is being used for perimiter airport-like security – the lesser of the hands on policing.

  4. Huntsville residents your in the books now. Your lives are now an opened book for the the entire security network in Canada. Don't get a speeding ticket or we might never see you again. Lol. Some towns would do anything for an extra buck comming their way.

  5. I don't know too much about the nature of the summit security, media, finances etc., given that I'm out of the country and somewhat removed from news of that sort. However, I dislike the portrayal of Huntsville, which caters to stupid stereotypes of small towns and detracts from what should be an informative and serious tone in the article.
    Poor grammar, colloquialisms and Old Lady Withers' garden gnomes, while perhaps painting a picture of a quaint rustic village overrun by "progress", are far from necessary. Or, for that matter, entirely accurate.

  6. Its 3 days, move along now.The unions caused more trouble not taking the garbage away for a whole summer!

  7. All this "outrage" over the cost of the summits is Liberal/media driven. Has anybody heard what Ignatief would have done differently? No? The major expense is security, and that is driven by what the countries attending, expect. It's not complicated. If Harper had taken a pass on the summits, the media and Opposition would have been crying how the Conservatives have failed Canadians on the world stage. So what should be a glorious opportunity for Canada to shine, is taken to a partsan pissing match, inwhich Canadians are the losers. The biggest losers are the Opposition and the media.

    • I wish Harper of 2004 could meet Harper of 2010. Surely he would fight himself to the death, horrified at what he had become.

      • That would be wildly entertaining to watch – Harper v. Harper. Maybe all that fencing could be re-purposed and we can get a cage-match out of it!

  8. Spin what you will about security and perceived or actual political attanchments / sentiment and interpretations driving different opinions this is Canada and the dollars spent are fueled by greed and paranoia and that I fear can spin out of control. Peace, Order and Good Government translates to scare, bully and control to serve and protect the rich and put the masses in their place for a few as is evidenced above. What happens to all the security apparatus after the summits – follow that and the money if you dare and dont stop questioning if you care about the democratic deficit and those who want to maintain democracy's read freedoms' downhill slide.

    • What happened to all the equipment purchased for the Olympics? There should be some serious cost savings from having provided similar security less than six months ago. I can't wait for the AG to get her hands on this.

  9. If the government wishes to spend $1.2 billion of tax payers' money, I would suggest they spend it on something that will have lasting value. Building an artificial lake for a couple of days, putting up a fence and then taking it back down, building a temporary security base in a gravel pit and then removing it all seems to be a terrible investment. We as a country would be must better served to invest this money by building facilities of value to Canadians, such as parks, community centres, arenas, national parks, transportation facilities, sports stadiums, libraries, etc., etc. These are the kind of investments that have lasting value for our country not temporary fences.

  10. I feel nothing but disgust for my fellow canadians these days when I am presented with such brainless drivel as seen in these blogs. I am proud to host the G8 and the G20 in my country and I deem it to be a beneficial exercise. Security is necessary for the protection of these leaders and well worth every cent. Our media people are making themselves a laughing stock around the world. They pick at everything and turn everything into a negative. The papers, magazines, T.V. and radio carry their twisted reporting. It's as though they have a hate campaign going against their own country and then they wonder why we have put so much money into security. It's because of the contempt they are stirring up amongst the anarchists in this country. I can see why the Liberals and NDP campaigning against these things , that's what an opposition does. False indignation!

    • Oh Roberta your shirt is in a knot., you sound apopoliptic. Afraid of those damned anarchists, we almost need them now to justify the expenses. Maybe the cons will hire some to prove thier point. The hate campaign going on isn't against the country only the despicable incompetant Harper government.

  11. "residents were asked to sign waivers that allow security to chase protesters onto their properties?" And when they do this who pays for the damage that may be caused by the protesters? I know insurance companies will not pay for it.

    Just another example of how out of hand these summits' security forces are getting, mind you having "a gate person" who will open and close the gates cutting the road from the driveways will feel kind of nice, could make for a nice hike in residential sales during the summit, could raise the property values a couple of hundred thousands dollars.

    Wonder if I could sell my property during this time period? LOL

    At least Muskoka finally got a new Fire Station, probably would have had to wait 20 more years for the funding, provided they did not raise the funds themselves before that.

    I hope this kind of summit never happens again in my lifetime, my great great grandchildren would never forgive us for the bill they will be paying off!

  12. Next time an event like this happens, citizen should challenge the likes of the RCMP and politicians.

    Get mad enough, pissed enough and they'll back down. It's happening in BC right now with the HST and the Gov't that's trying to instill it. They're both done. As for offering up info to the police, tell them to go do a records search of real estate themselves… will give them all the information they need to know without harrassing the residents.

    Lasty, I would make sure these idiots picked up every peice of garbage, litter etc before leaving town, and if they don't, charge them $5000/hr for cleanup…..that's a deal compared to the $1.2 Billion dollar – 2 day "meet and greet"