In 1988, Sue Smee was new to Ottawa. She had joined many local lesbian groups, but she couldn’t find anyone to share her interests on weekends.
“I wanted to go hiking, to go camping – and I wanted company,” recalls Smee. “I couldn’t find people who wanted to do what I wanted to do.
“Somebody said, ‘Why don’t you start your own group?’ I said, ‘Not on your life – that’s too much –ing work! Then somebody else eventually said, ‘Why don’t you start your own group?'”
So after considerable hesitation, she finally took out a newspaper ad in 1995.
The Lesbian Outdoor Group (LOG) was born. When 12 women appeared for the first meeting, which Smee held on her back deck in June, 1995, she was ecstatic. Ten years later, Smee is leading a 10-woman team in planning LOG’s anniversary celebrations.
Current membership now fluctuates between 100 and 150. The total number of active and non-active LOG members is approximately 600.
LOG has endured growing pains, internal conflicts, tough decisions and physical injuries. But thanks to a steady membership of women who feel connected by the group, it continues growing. While Smee originally meant LOG to do only outdoor activities, members have expanded its scope to social outings.
Lena Lanouette, who considered herself lucky number 13 at the first meeting, is also part of the 10th anniversary planning team.
“It was so nice to be with like-minded women,” says Lanouette.
With LOG’s help, Lanouette started organizing cycling trips and became a trip leader.
For some women, such as Mary Cameron, joining LOG was an entirely more nerve-wracking experience. Having recently broken up with her girlfriend of seven years, Cameron didn’t know anyone in the greater lesbian community. She talked to someone on-line who suggested LOG.
“I had absolute terror in my heart,” says Cameron, recalling her thoughts in 1998. “I am a lesbian but know nothing of the lesbian community. I don’t know what their mores are. I’ve been married. I’ve had kids. Will they accept me?”
Not out in her teaching profession, Cameron kept procrastinating about going on her first LOG hiking trip, but, in the end, she went. When she arrived at the parking lot that was the departure point near Meech Lake, the internet acquaintance who had suggested LOG was absent.
“But I met all these other fabulous people and went hiking,” says Cameron. The hike offered another twist. “I ran into parents whose children I teach,” says Cameron. “I felt so amazingly relaxed that when we got back to the nude beach, I said, ‘I’m going!’ This from a woman who used to undress in her sleeping bag at camp.”
With each subsequent hike, Cameron progressively met more women and started attending planning meetings. She is now the design member of the 10th anniversary planning group.
Members of LOG have organized canoeing, hiking, camping, tobogganing, skating, caving and cycling trips in locales like La Verendrye Provincial Park, the Gatineau Hills, Harris Farm and Ottawa’s bicycle paths. During one of their trips to Lake Placid in New York state – which have ended since Sept 11, 2001 – a small group went on a very rigorous mountain hike, epitomizing, in Smee’s opinion, what LOG offered.
“There was a clear, clear pool of water halfway down the mountain,” she says. “We were all so happy and the sun was shining. I remember saying. ‘If life could be like this, I will go on forever,’ because of the feeling amongst everybody, the connection with nature. For me, it’s a total package. The connection with my sisters – that intense happiness because you’re with people you care about and who care about you.”
Lanouette especially enjoyed hiking at Saranac Lake, in the United States, in early October because these trips included a Thanksgiving dinner for women who might not have traditional families to go home to.
Anecdotes from these trips often cause their storytellers to burst into laughter
Lanouette recalls one canoeing trip where Smee hung the food bag in a tree by tying a rope around a rock.
Smee tried to get the food up in the tree, recalls Lanouette. “The rock came around the tree, hit the canoe and made a hole. The whole idea of that trip was to go canoeing and camping. Not having a canoe didn’t help.”
“But being good dykes, we had duct tape,” laughs Cameron.
But not all of LOG’s experiences have been a laugh.
Smee tried to reach out to a woman who attended planning meetings but who was absolutely terrified and would stand against the wall. When she tried speaking to the woman, the stranger got scared and left. Smee hasn’t seen her since. “That kind of broke my heart,” she says.
Lanouette remembers a trip on Mount Jo in the United States where one member tore a knee ligament. “The toughest thing was climbing a rocky, rocky terrain with somebody who has no more motor skills in one leg,” says Lanouette.
The team helped the member down three kilometres in damp fall weather and wet foliage after it had rained all morning. “We all stuck together, took turns, bracing her, helping her,” says Lanouette. Some 911 paramedics met them halfway down with a stretcher for the injured hiker.
One of Smee’s toughest challenges was a debate about holding dry planning meetings, which, in the early days, occurred on Saturday nights.
“They weren’t drunken gatherings, but we were all certainly enjoying our beer,” says Smee. “Somebody on the coordinating committee brought to the floor that we had a lot of alcoholics in the group who were dry. Could we at least have the meetings dry? That was the most exciting debate we ever had because people were so pissed off.”
The vote went in favour of dry.
Smee stepped down as chair of the coordinating committee in 1999, while LOG was debating its changing identity.
“For me, the shift is acknowledging that tension between ‘Are we an outdoor group or are we a social club?'” she asks. “Can we be both and how do you do that?”
Outings now include movie and coffee nights, pot-luck dinners and annual picnics in Rockliffe Park.
In another 10 years, Smee foresees LOG being transformed, but hopes it will continue to be a force not only for individual women to connect but also in the community. “I want a place where I can go and have fun and belong,” she says. “I think that’s the dilemma we all have as gays and lesbians. Do we belong in this world? Can I at least belong in this organization?”
Lanouette concurs. “Ten years ago, LOG was a huge need because in society we weren’t as open and recognized. That is slowly going away. The young crowd self-identify themselves young. They aren’t looking for a group any more to adhere to, because they have a nucleus of friends that, whether straight or gay, understand them. But it was a nice segue for us – a good, safe place to be with like-minded women. That need may not be there in 10 years.”
Unlike the original group, today’s LOG has some members around 30, but many in their 40s, 50s and 60s. Cameron thinks that new women will need to take over.
“It’s maintained itself after Sue’s departure but we need young blood,” she says.
The anniversary planning group’s main concern now is getting at least 200 people to fill the event space.
“We have to be prepared for 400 women,” says Smee. “I think this is going to fly in a big way.”