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The world is watching Muskoka - and it's very easy on their eyes Add to ...

Talk about an eye-catching headline…

"Deerhurst - a typical Canadian cottage."

Typical, perhaps, if the average Canadian "cottage" sits on 780 acres, has a shoreline worth millions of dollars, boasts its own private airstrip, four restaurants, a spa, two 18-hole golf courses, an indoor pool, live nightclub entertainment and 400 rooms for those relatives who show up at the most inconvenient of times.

Yet that is how the site of the G8 gathering is viewed in Indonesia's Jakarta Post, which recently offered its readers a glowing account of the area and declared, in another, larger headline, that Muskoka is now "on WORLD'S TOURISM RADAR."

Not a word about the infamous fake lake.

In the months leading up to the G8 summit, and the rather ill-considered tacking on of a G20 gathering in Toronto - completely unnecessary in that the G20 is scheduled to meet in Korea this fall - two large contingents of international media were brought to Canada this past winter and spring to showcase the two venues that the world will be watching this week.

Government organizers entertained journalists and photographers representing Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea and Turkey at an expense, surely, far exceeding the $57,000 spent on the fake lake that has so captured the attention of the House of Commons and media from around the world - including The Economist, which this week slammed the Canadian government for the soaring costs of a two-venue summit and its frivolous add-ons.

The invited journalists spent time in Toronto, visited Niagara Falls (of course), two vineyards (smart) and then set off for Ottawa to see Parliament Hill and meet with various politicians and summit organizers.

In Toronto, most of the focus was on business and banking, though they also took in the Art Gallery of Ontario, where they were shown Group of Seven art and Tom Thomson's The West Wind, which was their first hint of what they would be seeing once they headed north.

They moved on to Huntsville, settling at the same Deerhurst Resort where the eight leaders will gather Friday. The second group had a boat tour of Lake Muskoka and, the next day, moved on to Algonquin Park where they were taken on hikes, went on a helicopter tour and were even given a chance to paddle a canoe.

The journalists were impressed. Lars von Torne, a reporter for Tagesspiegel, noted that most Germans thought of the Rockies when they considered Canada, not Muskoka. "People know of Canada," he said, "but this area people have no idea where it is." He hoped to change that.

Over the past month or so, the results have been pouring in to the Summit Office as various embassies collect and translate the stories that came out of this venture. They sent dry, often dull stories on banking, stories on taxation - but also a number of stories praising Muskoka and Algonquin Park to the skies.

They didn't always get it right - one report has but a single "interior campsite" in the vast park - but they were invariably positive. One Italian publication makes it sound as if once the "cottage season" starts up, people can either celebrity watch (Goldie Hawn, Shania Twain) on the lakes or "go moose or bear watching in Algonquin Park."

Olga Wunder of Russia's Itar-Tass News Agency praised "the natural charm of a peaceful and secluded resort" and deemed it "a perfect setting for an efficient brainstorm on global problems."

"These journalists were overwhelmed with the warm welcome," says Sanjeev Chowdhury, director-general of the two summits.

Chowdhury says the fake lake hasn't proved of much continuing interest with the international media. He understands, of course, how such a story takes on a life of its own. People who cannot comprehend a billion dollars understand perfectly a ridiculous shoe closet or a pretend "lake" that costs as much as or more than they make in a year.

"It's called a 'water feature,'" Huntsville Mayor Claude Doughty chuckles after a Wednesday visit to see the Experience Canada Alley.

Doughty wonders why the Toronto-centric media made so much fun of the phony Muskoka lake and yet have said nothing about the absurdity of having "fake tall buildings" in the same venue - when all the international media has to do is look out their hotel windows to see "real" buildings.

After his tour of the Muskoka section of the alley, Doughty pronounced it "quite modest" and "not over the top by any stretch.

"Those who shot their mouths off on it should be ashamed - people will be clamouring to get in and see it."

Doughty even thinks that, "in a perverse way," the fake lake and the controversy has done nothing but good for Muskoka, drawing even more attention to the real lakes in the area.

"I have to admit," he says, "I was a little dubious about those media tours when they first mentioned them, but you know what, some of those efforts are paying off. Here is an example of something that has worked."

Follow on Twitter: @RoyMacG

 

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