Naked truth: exposing the myth of Kouchibouguac's 'semi-official nude beach'
People get naked every year on Kelly's Beach — to the displeasure of Parks Canada
Want to get back to nature?
It's hard to imagine a more ideal setting that the pristine forests and beaches of Kouchibouguac National Park on New Brunswick's Acadian coast.
But some visitors, park officials say, are taking it way too far.
Kelly's Beach — a 25-kilometre stretch of dunes along the Northumberland Strait accessible only by a pedestrian boardwalk — is popular for its warm salt water, picturesque views, and endangered piping plovers.
But it's also a hotspot for naturists — or nudists — who for years have enjoyed au naturel sunbathing, swimming and socializing in an isolated area south of the supervised beach.
"It does happen almost every year," said Kouchibouguac visitor experience manager Jérôme Lussier. "Parks Canada is aware that this practice does occur at Kelly's Beach, but it is not allowed."
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That hasn't deterred some from letting it all hang out.
Kelly's has been ranked among the "best nude beaches in Canada" by Cottage Life magazine, featured by photo-entertainment website the Chive as a place to find "naked Canadians," and profiled on numerous nudist blogs.
The Wikipedia entry for Kouchibouguac National Park describes Kelly's Beach as "popular with naturists as the long sandy beach allows privacy and seclusion."
"Such use has been customary for at least the last 30 years or so and is tolerated by park officials," according to one naturist blog, which refers to the site as "New Brunswick's only semi-official nudist beach."
Park officials say it's an embarrassing misunderstanding that's spiralled out of control online.
But naturists say a clothing-optional section shouldn't be such a big deal — and want to lay bare the truth about the demand for a nude beach in the province.
The naked truth
Published references to naturism on Kelly's Beach date back at least two decades.
In 1998, the beach was featured in an article titled "Kelly's Beach and 'official sanction'" in the the winter issue of Going Natural, the magazine of the Federation of Canadian Naturists. The practice was mentioned again in a 2003 book Au Naturel: The History of Nudism in Canada and in other print publications.
"I'm aware that there was a naturist guide that was published a long time ago," Lussier said. "There are still published guides in circulation."
Since then, the information has been picked up and repeated on dozens of websites, which has made it nearly impossible to quash.
"We're doing as much as we can to correct that information when possible," Lussier said. "But we will see publications and websites come up with articles referring to Kelly's Beach.
"It's something that's ongoing."
Health benefits, no tan lines
On the comparatively conservative East Coast, naturists tend to keep a low profile — when they're not walking around naked, that is.
"Naturists guard their privacy and identity," Naturism New Brunswick/New Brunswick Naturisme, a clothing-optional group, said in written a statement to CBC.
"No one individual is willing to be publicly open about their lifestyle due to the legal system, public perceptions and the damages being open will bring to [their] personal and professional life."
There [have] been no persons charged or otherwise penalized for public nudity by park wardens at Kelly's Beach in recent history. - Parks Canada
No naturists contacted by CBC News consented to be interviewed on the record.
Despite the stigma, the group holds that "being naked outdoors has benefits to the individual's health . … The feeling of freedom reduces stress. ... Naturists and other members [of] society would benefit from greater awareness and better facilities."
Kelly's Beach, the organization said, is the only place for naturists "to enjoy their lifestyle in freedom in New Brunswick."
The organization stated that better signage would let them access the park as nature intended — and prevent bird-watchers and hikers from inadvertently stumbling across something they don't want to see.
Currently, the only indication you've infiltrated the so-called "N Zone" at Kelly's Beach is a series of low driftwood structures the naturists have built for shade and a bit of privacy from curious "textiles" — as hardcore naturists refer to clothed people — wandering down the beach.
With 25 kilometres of dunes, many of which are shielded from view from the main beach, Naturism New Brunswick suggested a nude section at Kelly's Beach would benefit all New Brunswickers.
"Nudism has many benefits that only the individual can quantify," the statement said.
Parks Canada begs to differ, stating unequivocally "there are no plans to offer a nude section."
What happens if you get naked?
The risk of jellyfish stings in the Northumberland Strait might be enough of a deterrent for some would-be naturists.
But the Criminal Code of Canada is clear on the penalties for public nudity — or nudity on private property if one's bits and pieces are exposed to public view.
It's a summary conviction offence punishable by fines of up to $5,000, six months in prison, or both.
The likelihood of actually being penalized for hanging out naked on an isolated beach, provided you're minding your own business, appears to be low.
In 2001 in Nova Scotia, then-director of public prosecutions Martin Herschorn set a legal precedent by refusing to prosecute five people arrested for public nudity at Crystal Crescent Beach in the Halifax area.
"Citizens should not face a criminal conviction for conduct of this type without aggravating factors, such as aggressive exhibitionism, or lewd or indecent acts," Herschorn said in a public statement.
The same may be true of Kelly's Beach.
While nude beachgoers can expect to be told to cover up if there's a complaint, or if they're caught red-handed by park wardens, "there [have] been no persons charged or otherwise penalized for public nudity by park wardens at Kelly's Beach in recent history," according to Parks Canada.
That could be good news for members of organizations like Naturism New Brunswick.
"Kelly's Beach is a fantastic beach," the organization said, "and has plenty of space to accommodate everyone."