- BC Games
COVER STORY: Naked on the North Shore
For 74 years Van Tan Club members have basked in the sun, au naturel, on the lower slopes of Mount Fromme.
With towels in tow, they unabashedly sprawl out in plastic chairs scattered throughout the rustic seven-acre lot.
But on this foggy fall day, the grass is dewy underfoot and the temperature is dropping.
“It’s too cold for us to be out here long,” says Dorothy S., shivering in the buff to get ready for her photo with The Outlook.
She briskly walked from the club’s sauna wearing only a fleece sweater and sandals and strips down to join her husband on a bench overlooking the Burrard Inlet.
The couple has traveled from their home in West Vancouver to the club for eight years. Dave S., her husband, is the club’s president and, like most Van Tanners, prefers to go by the first initial of his last name for privacy reasons.
Overcast skies obstruct their view of North Vancouver and it begins to lightly rain.
Time to get back to the outdoor hot tub or, better yet, the steamy sauna.
Welcome to our Winter Palace
At the top of Mountain Highway in Lynn Valley, an SUV guides the way up a dirt road to Canada’s oldest nudist club.
A group of mountain bikers along the popular trail wave and give a thumbs-up. In a recreation area where most cars are banned, they know the party is driving to the Van Tan Club.
As Tom D., a member at the club since 1976, gets out of his SUV, it’s clear he’s not your stereotypical hippy nudist.
Like most other Van Tanners, he’s an everyday person with an ordinary job — although many keep their occupations hush-hush.
During the fall and winter, when some members hibernate, the die-hards stay warm in the club’s “Winter Palace,” a cozy heated room strewn with magazines and decks of cards.
In the summer, the area is used for movie nights, karaoke and to hold the much anticipated pig-roast. Since electricity lines don’t run up the mountain, the club uses a generator and solar lights.
“There is a German theory where clothes cause problems. They believe in a more relaxed body culture,” says Tom, a stout man well versed in the club’s history, as he opens the door of the wood-fired sauna.
It’s a small building, best described as “quaint-rustic.” For hygienic reasons, each of the club’s 50 members carries a towel to lay down.
“We would love to see younger people join, we are getting older here,” laughs Tom, referring to the average member age of 50 to 60.
“There aren’t a lot of kids here, we’re not attracting the younger families.”
But he hopes the Van Tan Club’s facilities for volleyball, badminton, horseshoes, shuffleboard, croquet and kids’ activities will draw in more “new-dists.”
To keep the membership dues low ($268 regular, $178 seniors/students) routine maintenance and improvements are done by members in the required 10 hours of work annually. Everything from cutting the lawn, to weeding the small vegetable garden, to cleaning the washroom is completed without outside help.
“At this time of the year, when it’s getting cold, a couple of our members go down to Florida or Cuba,” says Tom. Some have gone on week-long cruises with Bare Necessities, including last year when the ship carried 3,000 nudists to a warmer climate.
But the club’s “million dollar view” is an advantage for those brave enough to stay behind. It’s here that movies such as the 2005 drama Missing in America staring Danny Glover were filmed.
Stop that leering
“My wife said absolutely no way, but if you want to go fine,” says Tom recalling his early days as a Van Tanner.
He was lucky: At that time, married men had to get permission from their wives to join.
During the 1970s in his mid-20s, he went to Vancouver’s Wreck Beach with friends but was in search of a friendly, more private experience.
He saw an ad for the Van Tan Club, minutes away from his home in North Van, and joined, although his wife never once set foot in the club.
“There are two kinds of people: Those who are OK being nude with strangers and not with friends, and those who only like to be around friends and say ‘never in front of strangers.’”
Both categories apply for members with close-knit friendships that span decades.
The club was founded in 1939 by “The Father of Canadian Nudism,” Ray Connett, who was raised on a farm in Saskatchewan. After moving to Vancouver with his wife, Connett saw a nudist magazine for the first time on a trip to Bellingham.
The alternative lifestyle where people removed their “cultural body armor” intrigued him and, after finding like-minded nudists in the Lower Mainland, he opened the club as a peaceful oasis right as the Second World War broke out.
The goal of the club is for members to feel comfortable and confident with each other.
“There is a misconception that all sorts of weird things go on here. Some people think we’re wacky but we have family values,” says Dorothy, coming out of the sauna, her husband standing nearby.
The set of strict rules, she says, rarely need to be enforced. This includes: no lewd comments, no photos, no sexual-based touching and, the No. 1 decree, sit on a towel at all times.
In the eight years she’s been a member, only two people have been asked to leave. One man was leering inappropriately and the other was there to “pick up women.”
Unlike in mainstream society, body image including any perceived flaws, shouldn’t be a concern.
“Not having clothes is freeing,” says Dorothy, obviously comfortable unclad in front of strangers. “You don’t have to worry about how this shirt fits or are these pants too tight?”
Bashful new members often wear a bathing suit, she adds, and some veterans still wear thin wraps around their lower half.
“We don’t pressure anyone to take anything off they don’t want to.”
And the atmosphere isn’t erotic, she emphasizes. Instead members tout it as family-friendly where nudity is accepted.
“It’s amazing how many people think it will be sexual here — it’s definitely not.”
As the days get warmer, dozens of RVs as far away as Prince George, Lillooet and Alberta will drive up the windy dirt road to the Van Tan Club.
But in the meantime there’s more to do than hastily jump out of the hot tub to make a snow angel (Yes, this is an annual winter ritual). There are a handful of festive events in the works.
On Dec. 14, members will bring decorations to adorn a collective Christmas tree in the Winter Palace while hot chocolate and cookies are served. The club’s annual Christmas party and potluck is on Dec. 21, complete with a barbecue dinner and holiday carols.
And then on Jan. 4, the Polar Bare Dare will draw a crowd as the Van Tanners celebrate the New Year and prepare for the annual meeting in April when the executives are elected.
To become a member, call the Van Tan Club at 604-980-2400, email firstname.lastname@example.org or check out vantan.ca. For indecisive guests, the club offers three trial visits.