BY: Rob Hoffman/ Photos: Connor Brian
“Hi, I have an interview at 3.”
“I suppose I should get naked?”
“That would be appreciated.”
The young woman I was talking to was named Nikki, the manager of Bare Oaks Family Naturist Park.
I stripped down and came out of the washroom naked apart from my backpack, which I used to carry my notebooks and recording equipment. Of course, this was mildly awkward at first—her giving me a full frontal behind the counter, middle-aged men waddling passed me with their guts over their crotch, young people walking around dripping wet, and me, just standing there, dick swinging in the breeze.
The funny thing was, after about 10 seconds, the shame of being naked completely disappeared. It didn’t take long before I was outside with a widened stance, fists on hips, soaking in the shear child-like joy of public nudity.
The park was tucked away in the back roads of East Gwillimbury, not 20 minutes from where I lived, though I had neglected to check it out until now.
Stephane, the man I came here to meet, walked up the driveway towards me. It dawned on me that I had forgotten to apply sunscreen to a few sensitive areas. I wondered if it would show poor manners to do so then. Stephane is the owner of Bare Oaks—a well-spoken Quebecois with an impressive mustache that curls off the sides of his face.
Stephane and Nikki took me on a tour of the grounds and showed me the man-made lake that served as the property’s centrepiece. The grounds were beautiful. There was a swimming pool, hot tub, sauna, walking trails, and jungle gyms, and everyone seemed to be smiling. I became haunted by the notion that these crackpot nudes were actually onto something.
Across the property spanned a housing plot of 20 or 30 trailers that people were using as cottages and summer homes. I couldn’t believe the sheer volume of near-permanent residents collaging the grounds. The rules mandated that trailers only be used as part-time homes, but nevertheless, Stephane told me, there was a seven-year waiting list just to park one on the property.
This community of normal people leading respectable lives and leaving work at 5 p.m. every day to return to Bare Oaks, take off their clothes, and spend their evening in shameless nudity—did their bosses and co-workers know the truth of their double lives?
Nikki tells me, “There’s just something about people leaving their fabulous cars and taking off their expensive watches. Everybody is just on that same level and you’re meeting somebody for who they actually are.”
We talked by the lake for a bit and then went over to the patio and got a beer. Remember that scene in Happy Gilmore where Happy’s coach tells him to “go to his happy place,” after which he starts daydreaming about naked women serving him beer while he reclines by a beautiful, glimmering lake? Well, there I was, sitting on a patio completely naked, a cute waitress wearing nothing but an apron serving me cold beer in the warm sun and the lake at my back.
Stephane told me that the other day, the waitress, Alyssa, complained about how self-conscious and uncomfortable she is with her body in the outside world. For her, this is the only place she can come to feel at home in her body.
“From the outside, it seems like the opposite would be true. But people believe they’re supposed to look some homogeneous typical way, otherwise they’re not worthy. But when you take your clothes off and you look around and see that there’s not two bodies that you’ll ever find that look the same, you’re forced to accept who you are,” Stephane says.
I was glad to see other young folk around the property. But even I had to admit there was no sexual air about it. Of course, one might consider, “What happens if you get a boner?” The truth of the matter was, it just didn’t happen. Once you got used to being naked, it almost seemed a shame that there were no more layers left to peel off. You start to realize how trivial clothing is to your identity.
“For some reason the textile world gets this impression that it’s all sexual, and that it’s basically a strip joint. We have built a world that convinces people that sex is about what we see and what we look like. Sex is in the mind and relationship. We’ve created an entire generation of people who don’t understand sexuality”, Stephane says.
Bare Oaks was clearly a place of wholesome values, but, of course, people speculate. The truth was that, aside from the psychical, psychological, environmental, social, and moral benefits of naturism, Bare Oaks simply offered a freedom you can’t find anywhere else.
I believe Stephane was right when he told me, “Self-censorship is the worst kind of censorship. That’s the one that kills the most free thought.”
I thanked Stephane for the beer and decided to take a dip in the lake before I left. I paddled around naked in the cool water and felt better than I could ever remember. I thought about the motto of Bare Oaks: “Free your body, free your mind.”
I’m sure many would disagree with that. How does nudity possibly lead to a strong and healthy mind? I can’t say that getting naked necessarily puts you on the road to free thought. But it is possible that those who are both clothed and close-minded have already missed the turnoff.