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The Globe and Mail

In Huntsville, the G8 leaders found a gracious host

John Niedzwiecki stands next to his chip truck in Huntsville, Ont., Saturday, June 26, 2010, as the G8 summit ends at the nearby Deerhurst Resort.

Graham Huges/The Canadian Press/Graham Huges/The Canadian Press

The demonstrations were low-key, locals lined up along Main Street, cameras poised for a sighting of a world leader, and the mayor's wife hugged her favourite politician, the President of the United States.

That, in many ways, summed up Huntsville's relaxed and warm reception of the G8 summit, unlike the protests and vandalism that marked the G20 in Toronto. But despite its unassuming nature, this quaint cottage country town is sure of one thing: The international coverage of its tiny piece of the world will pay off sooner or later.

Its outlook has already brightened considerably as millions of federal dollars were used to repave roads, build a new community centre, improve hydro lines and even attract the University of Waterloo to house a campus in town.

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Mayor Claude Doughty knows change doesn't happen immediately after the motorcades and helicopters carrying the G8 leaders leave. But even U.S. President Barack Obama suggested to him that he might want to return to this idyllic Muskoka community.

"I'm sure that Huntsville can't help but benefit," Mr. Doughty said. "When you have international media writing glowingly about Huntsville … it can't get any better than that, in terms of our image."

Mr. Doughty and his wife, Kim, ended up being the only two people in this town of 20,000 who got to meet the world leaders who gathered at the Deerhurst Resort just outside town. Ms. Doughty, a long-time fan of Mr. Obama and his politics, even received a hug when the President learned she had travelled to Washington for his inauguration.

"I don't think many people would say their favourite moment was when someone else hugged their wife. It sure was for me," Mr. Doughty said with a laugh.

For her part, Ms. Doughty said the moment the couple greeted Mr. Obama on Friday was still sinking in. But she said that the town's incident-free hosting of an international summit is proof that it can take on other major events.

"I spoke to a few of the leaders just briefly in passing, and they were all just delighted to be out of the city and in God's country and were really in awe of the scenery," she said.

Huntsville took the arrival of the G8, and the hundreds of police officers, just as a laid-back community would. Some escaped to their cottages or went on camping trips, wanting to avoid the potential chaos. Others remained close to home. But many weren't about to miss what was happening in their town.

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Jean Sterritt, 57, came to Main Street around noon Friday, lining up with as many as 100 others, hoping for a glimpse of Mr. Obama. In the end, all they saw was Governor-General Michaëlle Jean and her motorcade drive by. They cheered.

"It's pretty exciting for downtown Huntsville," Ms. Sterritt said. "This can only mean good things for Huntsville."

The G8 summit may have brought some annoyances to their peaceful lives, but many couldn't help but see a future benefit, especially with the infrastructure money spent. "I'm all for it," said Madrie Secord, 53, who brought her daughter to Main Street to catch the action. "It puts us on the map."

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