Nothing says “summer” in Ontario more than loading the kids into an over-stuffed vehicle and heading north for some back-to-nature camping.
At the gateway to cottage country, a 30-minute drive north of steamy Toronto, is the beautifully secluded resort Bare Oaks. It’s a paradise situated on 50 acres of conservation and virgin-forested land with a beach, lake, solar-heated pool, and boasting beyond-the-basics amenities like a mini-golf course, licensed bistro and games room. And as for those duffel bags full of camping attire, you can leave them at home. As its name suggests, at Bare Oaks you get to bare it all.
This family naturist park is nestled among the natural wilderness of the Ontario Greenbelt and Oak Ridges Moraine. The land that Bare Oaks stands upon has been dedicated to naturist pursuits since 1973 with a decade as a non-nudist campground sandwiched in-between.
Owners Stéphane and Linda Deschênes have operated the resort since 2006. With 650 members and over 2,000 annual visitors, the Deschênes welcome guests largely from Ontario and Quebec, but have also had many European tourists and those from as far away as New Zealand. As a family oriented naturist park you’ll find children running around and activities like volleyball, yoga lessons, campfires, and evening entertainment.
One of the biggest misconceptions about the resort is that it caters to a sexualized lifestyle. The Deschênes make it clear this is not the case. They have created an experience where the hyper-sexualization and objectification of the body is not tolerated, going so far as to implement zero-tolerance anti-harassment rules. The definition of naturism by Francis Schelstraete, founder of the Domaine de Bélézy resort in France, debunks the myth that nudity equals sex: it is “a way of life in harmony with nature characterized by the practice of communal nudity with the intention of encouraging self-respect, respect for others, and the environment”.
So what’s the difference between the more well-known term “nudist” and “naturist”? Though interchangeable, the former refers to those who like to be naked in general. Naturist is preferable for those who embrace the deeper philosophy of connecting mind, body, and spirit, and who believe that it promotes optimal health through unencumbered-by-clothing contact in natural, pollution- and stress-free environments. To provide such a facility, the Deschênes commit to minimizing the impact on the land. For example, they use an environmentally friendly product that is fatal to mosquito and blackfly larva – a pretty sweet benefit for camping in the buff.
Naturism also challenges gymnophobia, which is the fear of being nude either alone or in public. Indeed, a common nightmare is showing up at school, work, or appearing in front of a crowd without any clothes. Pop psychologists suggest that this is caused by deep-rooted insecurities, subconscious feelings of vulnerability, or anxiety over how someone views you. Like the strategies employed in phobia therapy, overcoming that fear by taking small steps can banish the apprehension. Baring it all could be a way to accomplish that.
Easing into a Bare Oaks camping getaway might include first getting comfortable in your own skin where you feel most relaxed: at home. Follow it up with a visit to the clothing-optional beach at Toronto Island’s Hanlan Point. Perhaps your next step is a daytrip to Bare Oaks, which many locals use as country club. According to Stéphane, it’s common for guests to share their highest level of heart-pounding anxiety occurs as they enter the long driveway to the resort not knowing what to expect, and fight or flight instincts tell them to make a U-turn.
“Until you experience it, it’s hard to understand,” he says, adding visitors to Bare Oaks quickly adjust and their angst vanishes.
Even though it’s not clothing-optional, know that you don’t have to immediately undress. The management and members alike understand that people’s comfort levels differ, and if you need extra time to adapt, that’s okay. Until you are ready, you are asked to be discreet by finding a quiet spot to hang out, to avoid certain areas where clothing is never permitted like the swimming pool or whirlpool, and be respectful of other guests (i.e. no gawking!).
For a longer stay, reservations are required for Bare Oaks’ five guest rooms, five cabins, and 25 serviced campsites. You can just show up to an un-serviced site and select a space on the lawns surrounding the ponds, or go for a wilderness experience in the forest. Pack your normal camping gear and make sure you bring a bag to carry towels (one to sit on, one for drying off), and day-at-the beach necessities.
I spoke with a few naturists who differ in their entrance to naturism. Tina, a lifelong lover of being nude, enjoys the community-based, social aspect of Bare Oaks. “It’s amazing to be around people who feel so comfortable in their own skin,” she says. “The first time eating at the restaurant was awesome. Nothing beats having a beer, burger, and fries naked!”
Elizabeth had more inhibitions and waited until she was in her 50s to strip down in front of others and then she was hooked. “It was so freeing and so much more comfortable than sitting around in a wet bathing suit. Now, I’d rather be nude than clothed when possible.”
To Jorges, who grew up in Greece, nudity is a non-issue. “North Americans are so shy and reserved; it’s just a body, we all have the same things.”
I’ll admit that my forays into public displays of nudity are limited to European beaches where those in the skimpiest swimwear were garnering stares, and to cheeky skinny dips under the cover of night. But 35,000 Canadian naturists must know something the rest of us do not. So a visit to Hanlan Point this summer may be in order. Who knows where that may take me next.
Written by: Robina Lord-Stafford
– Lord-Stafford is a Orangeville-based freelance writer and screenwriter. Follow her on Twitter: @robinanat