A short time ago on a long road trip, my wife and younger daughter and I took an opportunity to pay a visit to Bare Oaks Family Naturist Park north of Toronto, Ontario. While enjoying Niagara Falls, we had the idea to visit Bare Oaks rather spontaneously. I’ve been a listener of The Naturist Living Show podcast for years now, and so of course I knew about the park and its outspoken owner, Stéphane Deschênes, a naturist leader of international stature. So we called the park and were able to reserve the last cabin available for that very evening. During the final stretch of the journey to our destination, we were surprised and delighted to see Bare Oaks listed right alongside other area attractions on the “next exit” highway signs.
We arrived just as the office was closing – thank you, patient and friendly office staff! As first-time visitors, we watched a video about the layout and history of the park, and about the basics of naturism, and we received a folder of written materials including policy statements and maps.
Then, with our wristbands and our passcard, we drove through the gate and along the path to our cabin. The cabin is a very nice space with front porch, recycling bin, table and chairs, ceiling fan, kitchenette (refrigerator and freezer, Keurig with a selection of pods, microwave, cooking utensils), and the back area with four bunk beds (including pillows and sheets, etc.) and a window fan. The cabins do not have running water or a bathroom – for these needs, the facilities are a short walk across the way to a building with indoor and outdoor showers, indoor toilets and sinks, and two outdoor sinks for dish washing.
The grounds are rustic and lovely, with several ponds and streams, and walkways around and through the residential and camping areas. There is a children’s playground, a miniature golf course, and a beach area along one of the ponds. Something I greatly appreciated about the park’s many green spaces is how folks will just sunbathe out in the middle of a field, or claim some space near the pool but out in the sunlit green areas.
The clubhouse features a store selling a little bit of anything you might need, including – because, yes, they are a *need* – books! No naturist fiction, alas, but a nice selection of books on naturist history and also photography, and issues of N and Going Natural. We purchased Frank Cordelle’s Bodies and Souls: The Century Project and Harvey’s The Spirit of Lady Godiva, both of which are outstanding coffee-table photo essays whose publications were aided by Canadian naturist educator and activist Paul Rapoport. Highly recommended! Actually, there is indeed an example of naturist fiction for sale in the clubhouse store’s book section, and a very fine one at that: Stephen Crowley’s The Koala Bares, a pioneering and delightful naturist comic. Crowley’s work, in fact, pops up in signage all over the Bare Oaks grounds and on some of the park’s written materials as well. (See my 2012 interview with Crowley here; and you can hear his 2009 interview with Stéphane Deschênes on The Naturist Living Show podcast here.)
The clubhouse also includes guest rooms, an equipment rental area, an indoor shower, sauna and hot tub area, and a downstairs lounge area with TV, a kitchen, billiards, and a relatively large library. The saltwater pool is just off the side of the clubhouse, with showers and lounge chairs. The most stellar feature of the clubhouse is the Bare Bistro, which is an actual restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating areas. The staff is friendly and efficient, and the food is terrific! They have a selection of tasty sandwiches, burgers and salads, and vegetarian choices. Also on tap is a terrific selection of local beers.
I was hoping to meet Stéphane, the owner, and I did indeed have that opportunity. I introduced myself when I saw him in the store, stocking new books, and we had a quick conversation to be extended later in the afternoon when, as he explained, he would bring a TV out to to the bistro patio to watch that day’s World Cup semifinal. A few hours later, a group of about a dozen or so of us watched the exciting England-Croatia game on the patio while enjoying the Bare Bistro menu – others were watching in the indoor lounge. Amidst the shouts of fans – mostly England’s – Stéphane and I had a pleasant conversation about naturism in general, where the movement is headed, organizations such as the INF, AANR, and TNS, and the good work of our mutual friend Héctor Martínez, new president of the Mexican Naturist Federation (interview here). He told me a bit about business aspects of running the park, such as the decision to contract out the restaurant, which seems to have been a very successful move.
At some point during the match, when my wife and daughter had gone to the indoor lounge to use the computer, Stéphane had to call me aside, to let me know that one of his staff members had reported to him that my 14-year-old was not uncovering herself completely. This, he explained, is problematic especially regarding teens, because if one teen at a naturist park covers up, the rest will do so also. Now, Stéphane’s views on the importance of required nudity at naturist parks, and rejection of clothing-optional policies, are widely known (I even wrote them into a line of dialogue spoken by my naturist Don Quixote figure, Doff de Chonez, in this episode!), and my family and I had of course agreed to the park policy. So I was a tad embarrassed, even though according to me, my daughter had been doing just fine – maybe she had covered up for some reason and I wasn’t there and didn’t know. I apologized and insisted on going to investigate, even though Stéphane told me there was no need for an apology, that he himself, as a father, understood teenage reluctance, and that we should sit back down and continue our conversation. But I did go look for them, couldn’t find them, and when I returned to the patio they were there waiting for me. My daughter was partially covering herself with her wrap, but not completely, and so I let her know what had happened, and in the end it was not a big deal. I did return to conversation with Stéphane, who was happy to know that I would write a review. He suggested a photo to accompany the text, and that suggestion became the two photos with a new Bare Oaks sign that begin and end this post.
Before our visit, I had already known Bare Oaks Family Naturist Park to be exemplary in the naturist world. After having visited, I can affirm that it is a thriving paragon of naturist values maintained by the tireless efforts of its owner, staff, members, and other stakeholders. I hope to make a longer visit soon, and I strongly recommend the same for anyone interested in living a true naturist philosophy.