Thursday, August 04, 2005

Naked in Canada's Southest: Wreck Beach

No tan lines in the naked city

Who needs Wreck Beach anyway? Going au naturel at Hanlan's Point appears to be gaining wider popularity this summer

JOSHUA ERRETT - The Globe & Mail
July 30, 2005

Amid the hundreds of Saturday-afternoon beachgoers at Toronto's only official clothing-optional beach, Jane Hobbins's choice of swimwear stands out.

"I'm only wearing bottoms because I'm conducting business," says Ms. Hobbins of the half bathing suit she wears at Hanlan's Point. "Otherwise I'd be completely nude."

Her business is selling beer and massages to the ever-growing crowds on the nude-friendly Toronto Islands beach.

Ms. Hobbins, who owns the Mermaid Cafe on Centre Island, recognized the popularity of Hanlan's Point and expanded her business to include nude patrons -- making hers the first-ever clothing-optional establishment on the beach.

"It's very popular with young people now," she says of the stretch of beach facing west on Lake Ontario. "And it's become a real mix of gay and straight."

The Hanlan's Point beach has offered sanctuary to those wanting to wear less since it first opened as a pilot project in 1999.

Laire Taverner, 30, who rents out umbrellas and chairs at the beach, says it used to attract "a gay crowd," but that that's changing this summer.

With the recent heat wave and a shortage of safe-to-swim beaches in the city, younger people are leaving their bathing suits at home and heading to Hanlan's Point.

As many as 300 people may be found on the beach at peak times, and its popularity has boosted small-scale businesses such as Ms. Hobbins's beach bar. "Business is good, but I'd like to expand to include food and other drinks," she says.

Next to her makeshift service counter and several large umbrellas, the bare-breasted Ms. Hobbins is enjoying her first official day of loosening up reluctant nudes with beer and massages by a trained (but clothed) masseuse. "It's so new, we don't even have a sign yet," she says.

Farther down the busy beach, Ms. Hobbins finds her target market laid out on several large towels: a group of people between the ages of 26 and 33, soaking up the sun.

"I think it's already become a trend with young people," 29-year-old Yuri Narula says of the nude beach's newfound acceptance.

She and her friends are indicative of how the once largely gay hangout is becoming more mainstream. Between applying suntan lotion and sipping cold beers, Ms. Narula and her companions chat about why the birthday suit may be back in style.

"I like to come here because everyone's so relaxed," says Ms. Narula. "And because I don't like tan lines."

"There are no little kids running around here, no babies crying," says the occasionally nude 33-year-old Amy Spear. "It's definitely not as crowded without families around."

As Hanlan's becomes more popular (and slightly more co-ed), comparisons with Canada's most famous nude beach begin. Wreck Beach is renowned for its free-spirited sensibilities, with Vancouverites relatively blasé about going to nude beaches.

Mr. Taverner blames the more conservative atmosphere in Ontario for Hanlan's slower progress toward wider public acceptance.

"It's more difficult [in Ontario] with our Victorian-style laws toward nudity," says Mr. Taverner, wearing nothing but a straw hat. "Wreck Beach is famous. Most people don't even know what goes on down here."

He sees Toronto's nude beach gradually becoming as accepted as its West Coast counterpart. "Right now, it's getting very busy with people between the ages of 25 to 45," he says. "And they're a mix of gay, straight, couples, friends . . . people who just like being naked."

Stéphane Deschênes, spokesman for the Federation of Canadian Naturists, helped to fight for the beach's clothing-optional status. He says that Hanlan's Point is gaining acceptance with college-aged beachgoers, but he isn't convinced that mass appeal has arrived yet.

"Eventually, the nude beaches here will start to look like those [elsewhere]," he says. "In Europe, there's no issue. . . . Everybody goes. [Hanlan's Point] is years behind."

A proponent of public nudity, Mr. Deschênes is among those who believe that by stripping off your clothes on a beach, you unburden yourself of societal pressures regarding body image.

"Fear of being nude is a disease," he says.

By that logic, the waterfront at Hanlan's Point would appear to offer a fashionable cure.



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