G20 fake lake revealed

The so-called fake lake, criticized for being too costly, is shown to journalists with little fanfare before the G20 summit in Toronto.
Journalists survey the display of wooden Muskoka chairs, a shallow pool and canoes at the G20 media centre Wednesday. ((Lianne Elliott/CBC))

The so-called fake lake was shown to journalists with little fanfare Wednesday before the G20 summit in Toronto.

Journalists and officials wandered about the controversial exhibit in the Direct Energy Centre at Exhibition Place to examine the cedar deck, wooden Muskoka chairs, shallow pool and stacked canoes sitting in front a giant screen flashing images of Ontario lakes.

The pool, costing $57,000, is meant to simulate the charm of Ontario's cottage country in the heart of downtown Toronto, giving journalists a taste of Huntsville, Ont., where the G8 summit will be held Friday before the G20 begins in Toronto on Saturday.

Visitors take their picture in front of the fake lake. ((Lianne Elliott/CBC))

Huntsville Mayor Claude Doughty, who tested out one of the Muskoka chairs, said the exhibit reminds him of home. He wondered if he'd see images of his house on Fairy Lake flash on the screen in front of him.

He figures the display is sure to inspire foreign visitors to travel to the Muskoka area.

"If you're sitting here, how can you not want to go there?" he asked.

But Rakesh Tiwari, publisher of the Hindi Times in Brampton, Ont., says it would have been better to have let foreign journalists visit Muskoka in person, rather than forcing them to cover the summit from the media centre in Toronto and having them make do with a fake Muskoka setting.

Only a few reporters have access to the facilities in Huntsville.

"Let them see it with their own eyes," Tiwari said. "Rather than being here, let them go there."

Cost under fire

The lake is part of a $1.9-million tourism pavilion called Experience Canada in the summit media centre that has come under criticism for being too costly.

The technology exhibit showcases the best in Canadian innovation. ((Lianne Elliott/CBC))

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff has called the lake and other summit spending an "astonishing" waste of taxpayers' money. But Prime Minister Stephen Harper says the pavilion is a "$2-million marketing project" that is an opportunity that can't be missed.

Motosada Matano, a Japanese press officer travelling with the 160 Japanese journalists covering the summit, says the display simply reinforced the image of Canada he already has.

"It's exactly the image I imagine, the beautiful scenery," said Matano, who had never been to Canada before he arrived three days ago.

The 3,700-square-metre Experience Canada pavilion includes the lake display to feature Ontario's northern wilderness and an urban section to promote Ontario businesses and innovations. A reception area offers refreshments, including free beer and wine, from all parts of Ontario.

"The Experience Canada space will host over 3,000 media and other guests, and will serve to highlight Canada's pristine natural beauty, as well as promote leading Canadian businesses and industries," according to a statement issued by the Prime Minister's Office.

Dan Arnold's company, Arius 3D of Mississauga, Ont., used an iPad to show off the 3-D images it creates to be used in virtual museums, video games and movies. Although he did only a few demonstrations Wednesday afternoon, he expects to be busier as journalists make their way to the media centre over the next five days.

"It's good to get this opportunity," he said.

The government is expected to give a briefing on the lake and media centre features at 6 p.m. ET.