News
8 min

Camp appeal

Queer options for braving the great outdoors

KUMBYA. Pass the marshmallows and chocolate! Credit: Xtra files

Let’s face it, once past half-naked eye-candy and patio luxuries, summer in the city sucks. Humidity coats everything, concrete and steel radiate with heat-blistered filth, smog chokes sensitive inner-city lungs, that general smell of whatever was rotting through the winter gets kicked-up to overdrive under the sun even before you factor in the strike. Who wouldn’t want to get away from it all for at least a little bit?

City queers might take minor sojourns to the beach or day trips to less congested areas, but the average queer probably hasn’t considered a getaway to the depths of Ontario’s lush environmental offerings. There’s a good chance this is because born-and-bred city queers may be under the impression that The Great Outdoors is the domain of red-necked trailer folk or ruggedly intimidating bears and dykes. But the truth remains that those great outdoor areas exist for everyone, and there are many options for those wanting to commune with nature, even just for a weekend, and wonderfully inclusive to all ways of life (excluding tweaked-out circuit party camps and jaded bar-fiend camps).

Here’s a sample of campy getaways for you to consider during the hot August blaze.

Cedars Campground

"The appeal of queer-inclusive camping is the freedom to be yourself,” emails Chris Maynard, co-owner of Cedars, the queer-operated campsite now celebrating its 25th year in business.

Located in Millgrove, west of Hamilton, Cedars traces its routes back to a hobby-farm turned quiet campground for what was then a more closeted community. Green in scenery and operation — Cedars has gone all natural with solar panelling and sewage composting — the site offers camp spaces, cabins, duplexes and seasonal spots for those who wish to set up a permanent spot for their trailer, creating a home-away-from-home for the summer season. The campsite also offers day passes for those interested in checking out a self-contained outdoor community, which boasts between 50 and 100 seasonal campers during the week and 600 plus on the weekends.

"We have a huge cross-section of personalities here at Cedars and proudly welcome all aspects of the LGBT community… a great mix of men and women,” writes Chris, who along with father Ken Maynard and partner Bevan McLelland, took over ownership of the campsite from Zada Moyer two years ago.  

While it’s not quite roughing it — in addition to the de rigueur tuck shop Cedars boasts a nightclub and pool bar that runs weekend tea dances — it does offer city-queers ample chance to do their social networking in the bush and under the stars.

"If you’re into campfires, tenting and being alone, we have you covered,” writes Chris. “If you’re into a more social weekend, dance up a storm at our fully licensed nightclub, The Barn, with DJ Thunder."

Open all summer, the weekends are by far the busiest time to visit. “The best time to come to Cedars depends on what you consider to be a good time,” writes Chris. “The long weekends here are always packed — a great time to meet and make new friends. If you’re happier being one with nature, a little peace and quiet, a regular weekend might be better for you."

Overnight camping fees start at $16 a night, while cabins start at $55; costs increase around long weekends and themed events. For more check out Cedarscampground.com.

The Point

Word at the corner of Church and Alexander is that all-male campsite the Point is the place to be for guys, hands down. The number of word-of-mouth recommendations I’ve had for the site is staggering.

"I have heard it called camping with a twist,” emails The Point’s general manger Michael. “Why not enhance the traditional camping experience with the camaraderie of other gay men, a full social calendar, weekly themes and dances and all the amenities that Ontario’s south coast has to offer?"

Located in Turkey Point, southwest of Hamilton near Lake Erie, the Point Tent and Trailer Resort was created with gay male campers in mind — its largely clothing optional, and offers a range of events geared towards bears and leathermen. Located in a heavily wooded and secluded natural wonderland the Point offers tenting to full-service sites for trailers and RVs. In addition to activities available nearby for outdoor enthusiasts such as the lake and surrounding nature trails, numerous social mixers decorate the Point’s busy calendar.

"This year we have already hosted Canadian Burning Man and will be having our first-ever Foam Party,” writes Michael. Yet to come is the ninth Annual Bear Jamboree (Fri, Aug 7 to 9) and XXL (Aug 21 to 23), with its slogan is “go big or just stay home” and includes a foam party on the Saturday night.

Although the site caters primarily to men, there are some events that welcome the wider community, like the pansexual weekend Forbidden (Aug 14 to 16), which is an adults-only event for all sexes and features the return of the infamous trailer crawl, where sexually adventurous campers can schmooze from trailer to trailer for a little taste of everything.

The number of participants varies depending on the event, but since the Point is apparently so busy that staff can’t respond to follow-up questions from this reporter, one can only assume.  

The Point Tent and Trailer resort is open from May to October. Basic campsite costs $13.75 per night; $50 for basic cabins. Check out Get-tothepoint.com for more info.

Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival

More festival than camping experience, the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival has long drawn queer women from north of the border. This year the six-day event offers 40 performances, a film festival, arts and crafts show, a full roster of workshops, parties and dances, making for one fast-paced week on 650 green and wooded acres in Michigan.

"The majority of our attendees are lesbian identified, but many nonlesbian womyn have found a home at Mich-Fest,” emails Sandy Ramsey, one of the festival’s many workers and coordinators. “The appeal of our event is that it is specifically for womyn and their children at an affordable cost with a plethora of activities and performances to choose from…. The performances are eclectic, the activities varied and attendees are from many generations."

Not just for wilderness fanatics, the festival is designed to be easy on the urban camper, including a meal plan for three vegetarian meals a day and open-air hot showers.

"This is our 34th year and womyn continue to attend and support this event because of what they learn during their time here and what they take home with them,” writes Ramsey, adding that the event draws hundreds each year.

Being a “womyn’s” festival, men are not allowed in. However, neither are trans women, something that has long been a source of contention — and led to the birth of a concurrent protest event, Camp Trans. (See below for more.)

Although Ramsey declined to comment on the policy, in a 2006 press release Mich-Fest founder Lisa Vogels stated, “the festival remains a rare and precious space intended for womyn-born womyn."

The Michigan Womyn’s Fest runs Tue, Aug 4 to 9. See Michfest.com for more. Tickets range from $445 for 6 Days to $80 for the Sunday.

Camp Trans

Founded in 1994 as a response to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festivals MTF-exclusive policy, Camp Trans (CT) runs concurrently at a nearby but undisclosed location, offering both an alternative and a protest to Mich-Fest.

"Queer people generally want to be in queer-inclusive places,” writes the Camp Trans collective, adding that it’s “a space for trans people to feel good about being trans. It’s one of the very few large events in the USA that is mostly attended by trans people. Of course those in solidarity/allies/supporters are welcome."

Not unlike Mich-Fest there’s a big focus on community building at Camp Trans, which is seeing increased attendance each year, now approaching the hundreds. “The community is the greatest,” writes the collective. “There’s performances, dance parties, activism, workshops, discussions, campfires, swimming and any impromptu event that you want to instigate. We work hard to centre the event around trans people, to get trans women welcomed into [Mich-Fest], and to make Camp Trans a safe and welcoming place for all who participate."

The camp, which is offered on a sliding scale — “no one will be turned away for lack of funds” — and includes a vegan meal plan. Organizers also coordinate rides to and from the airport, bus and train stations in an attempt to make it accessible.

A healthy mix of protest and festival Camp Trans includes outreach to Mich-Fest participants to talk to them about the fest’s trans policy and Camp Trans. “On Friday and Saturday CT campers and festies [Mich-Fest attendees] alike fill the camp for our rally against the policy, a performance night and our always-popular dance parties,” states the CT website.

"The middle of the week is filled with workshops, caucuses, trips to the lake and social activities. Throughout the week we’ll have trans activists from around the country presenting workshops designed to give you the tools to organize around issues that affect trans people in your own community — healthcare, discrimination, employment, HIV, lower-income resources. This is the ‘meat’ (or textured soy protein, if you like) of CT and is not to be missed."

Camp Trans no longer exists. 

Out & Out Toronto’s Jamboree

Every summer the recreation club Out and Out rents what is otherwise a children’s summer camp to host Jamboree on the banks of a private lake in the Haliburton Highlands.

True to the childhood summer camp experience, “Jamboree has almost everything anyone could want, including friendly, welcoming people, all meals and snacks prepared for us, lots of things to do, all in a really beautiful setting,” emails Hollie Devlin, secretary of the Out and Out Club.

Accommodations for the weeklong event are shared cabins, with hot shower and “proper washrooms."

"We have full use of camp facilities including three lovely docks, canoes, kayaks, dining hall, recreational buildings and sports equipment,” writes Devlin.

Open to folks who aren’t part of the regular Out and Out membership, Devlin says the event attracts more than 200 campers.

"Jamboree attracts a wide assortment of people,” writes Devlin. “Ages range from early 20s to late 60s, and everyone in the LGBTQ community is welcome. We generally have about 30 percent women to 70 percent men ratio — more women every year — and a great cross-section of people from different backgrounds.

"There are lots of activities, generally four to five to choose from at any particular time, so there is something for everyone, including the hard-core hikers and wilderness types, the low-energy crowd and everyone in between. You can spend the whole time at camp doing sports and being very active, participate in arts and crafts activities or simply lay around the beautiful docks all day."

What’s the strength of the weeklong event? “Friends, fun, acceptance,” writes Devlin. “My strongest memory from the first time I attended Jamboree was one day when I stopped to watch a chipmunk on the edge of the lane between cabins. I heard laughing, singing and water splashing. That’s all. Laughing, singing and water splashing. People having fun together. It was an incredible moment."
 
Jamboree runs Mon, Aug 17 to 23 with seven day ($462), five day ($357), and three day ($252) packages. See Outandout.on.ca/jamboree for more.