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The Toronto Nude Scene
TORONTO - For awhile, public nudity seemed to have found its place in the centre of Canada's biggest city.

I'm not counting the strippers in this vibrant city core. Nobody could. No, in the sprawling "gay village" that may be the liveliest of the downtown neighbourhoods, occasional nude nights had become accepted at a couple of the gay clubs, more social than sexual. On these clearly designated evenings, sipping a a fashionably chic cocktail meant bare cheeks and no fashion at all.

The appointment of a hard-line police chief has stirred up trouble, despite his platitudes of reconciliation. A girls-only party in one of the baths was raided by male detectives, and a notorious porno movie hang-out was turned into an inflammatory cause. Now the casual nudity in the gay village has come under a legal hassle of an intricacy to make Queen Victoria growl rather than blush.

For three years the well-organized nudist group TNT MEN has held occasional parties in The Barn, a bar that lives up to its name. Its two large, dusty floors might be more hospitable to storing bags of cow fodder, but it has survived in part because of its many dark corners. Sexual activity doesn't change because of the few seconds saved when the pants are already off on nude night. Even so, the place has come under pressure.

Police know that nude dancing (strippers, again) is legal in Ontario so they couldn't go after the liquor license. Instead, they reached back into the red-faced history of the province for a legal distinction and accused the nude nights of disorderly conduct under the criminal code.

Now, Ontario grew up on a regimen of order and quiet, true to the legacy of its Scottish Victorian ancestry. It has taken wave after wave of immigration to wipe the scowl off the provincial face. Remnants of the old days remain in the "vice" laws, although the modern attitude is to tax the hell out of any pleasure from gambling to escorts.

Yet the causing-a-disturbance laws, which once included whistling, remain a weapon, however indistinct.

At the same time, the Victorian practicality has tugged the province in another direction. There is a feeling, reinforced by a polyglot ethnic population, that you can do whatever you want behind closed doors where it wont upset the horses in the street. Especially, these days, if it makes money for the government.

And so the gay village has gone from pariah to tourist attraction. The annual Gay Pride parade is so big a fixture that Toronto's glad-handing mayor now gleefully takes his place, armed with a super squirt gun. And never mind the salacious nudity (yes, some of it is.) The biggest breweries and the the most brown nosing politicians lead these half-dressed citizens from Sodom to Gomorrah with the citizenry gawking in a mixture of titillation and disgust and then go home the same as from the Santa Claus Parade.

Well. The Barn has pulled its shorts back on for the interim, to abate the pressure.. Nude people donut drink as much, not holding much money. The trial wont come around until February and by then the practical legal penalty may have already been exerted by the costs of the lawyers. The customers will simply drop trou someplace more welcoming. Momentum is on their side and everybody else is too busy to care.

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The TNT MEN proved their mettle by dexterously lobbying for a nude beach in Toronto harbour, and their economic forecasts have been proved right. Hanlan's Point has drawn so many undressed taxpayers to neglected real estate in two summers that Toronto council extended its mandate for two more years, allowed a 30 per cent expansion, and agreed to provide lifeguards.

It's a spectacular place. The beach is on the chain of sandspit islands that circle Toronto harbour on the edge of Lake Ontario, adjacent to a light airplane landing strip that kept the obstinate colony of cottagers a little distant. Yet up there above the shore, just across the kilometer of frigid lake water, loom the golden towers of the downtown banks, the Skydome baseball field and CN Tower. A priceless view, reachable only by ferries that waddle across the harbour as if it were still 1900.

Back then, Ned Hanlan was a sculling hero (that's rowing) whose family owned a dubious hotel, and the boys swam naked because nobody could afford to ruin clothes in the water.

Official status drew gawkers to the beach at the start, especially from the press who never think of themselves as spies. But the beach has worked. The gays have stayed to themselves, some families have arrived, ferry revenues went up, and the Hanlan's Point Naturists group developed a list of do's and don'ts that satisfied the Canadian urge for bureaucracy.

Reading it, I wanted to lay down on their beach and catch my breath. Nude, of course, and give them due credit for that.

Internet for the Hanlan's group: http://members.theglobe.com/hbn_toronto/hbn.htm

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