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Filmmaker heads to Canada's oldest nudist club in North Van to understand his family's history

In 'Nude to Me,' Daniel Berish ventures to the Van Tan Club on Mount Fromme to learn about naturism and nudism
Nude to Me
A naturist soaks in the view from Mount Fromme, the site of the Van Tan Club and Canada's oldest nudist club, during a scene from 'Nude to Me.'
Speaking in the blunt, occasionally cutting manner that only our elders are ever able to pull off, Daniel Berish’s grandmother once told him he could write a book about what he didn’t know in reference to their family’s history. Instead, he made a movie.

A few years ago, Berish, a Vancouver-based filmmaker and documentarian, was capturing some of his grandmother’s life as her health had started to deteriorate.

While flipping through an old photo album together, Berish’s interest was piqued when he came across a black-and-white picture of his grandmother in the woods sporting nothing but a towel and a big smile.

She told him the photo was taken at the nudist club in Quebec where she’d met his grandfather decades earlier.

Berish’s jaw dropped.

“Obviously your grandparents meeting at a nudist club doesn’t come up naturally in a conversation at a big family get together,” he tells the North Shore News.

The story stuck with Berish, who recently released Nude to Me, a short documentary that premiered this past week.

In the film, Berish visits Canada’s oldest nudist club, which happens to be in North Vancouver, to learn more about the lifestyle of naturism and see first-hand how this could have contributed to his grandparents’ union.

Near the outset, Berish and his film crew scale a hiking trail, go up an old logging road and eventually find themselves surrounded by beautiful trees, gorgeous views, and plenty of fresh flowers at the site of the Van Tan Club, a naturist and nudist club tucked away on Mount Fromme.

The club, originally founded in 1939, adheres to the principals of naturism, which extol a lifestyle involving non-sexualized social nudity, according to Berish.

“When you go up to Van Tan it is a very private place, but my personal connection to this story … I think that was really the catalyst to having this conversation,” said Berish.

Throughout the film Berish – who dons his birthday suit on camera during his time at Van Tan – interviews many of the members of the club as they go about their routines, which generally involve relaxing, chatting, taking in some breathtaking views of the North Shore and beyond from the top of Mount Fromme, and in essence, being one with themselves and nature.

As one club member named Tom pontificates at one point in the film, as he chops wood naked in order to fuel the club’s wood-fired sauna and hot tub, people mainly join the club in order to do something that feels completely natural to them, even if their hobby still causes many in Canadian society to raise an eyebrow.

“It’s not a colony. It’s a group of normal people,” he says.

For Berish, after spending some time at the club and getting to chat with its members – some of whom have been with the club for decades – he offers that naturism likely played a huge part in his grandparents’ early budding romance because it allowed them to see each other for who they truly were.

“Naturism allows people to transcend everything that we put forth in the world – and by that, I mean what clothing you’re wearing, what watch you’re wearing, what car you’re driving. It allows people to meet on a real even playing field and it allows people to see who they are on the inside,” he says. “I’m now a lot more comfortable in my own skin than I was at the beginning of this.”

And while Berish – and his film crew – shed their layers of clothes for the purposes of the film, they also learned how important it was to foster a dialogue about nudity and naturism in general.

It’s a concept, Berish says, that everyone has an opinion on without always knowing much about it.

We learn, for example, that nudism and naturism is more common in places like Scandinavia or Australia, where laws on public nudity and nudity in general aren’t as stringent.

There was one other main thing Berish learned while making the movie. “I learned that it’s very difficult to cover your entire body with sunscreen.”

Nude to Me is streaming as part of the Hot Docs festival between now and May 9, and will be available on CBC Gem on May 7. The film is getting its Western Canadian premiere as part of the DOXA Documentary Film Festival, May 6-16.