Ray Connett

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Mildred and Ray Connett, circa 1962
Ray Connett was arguably the most renowned trailblazers of Canadian nudism. Along with his wife Mildred, the Connetts helped found two clubs in British Columbia before organizing a third in Southern California. Ray also made several public appearances at town hall meetings and on television promoting social nudism, becoming a familiar representative of the American Sunbathing Association. They were always honest and forthright to the community with their nudism in a time when most others kept it to themselves.

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Van-Tan Club

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Ray was born in 1914 and raised in the prairie province of Saskatchewan. The Pacific Coast beckoned him in the early 1930s and, whilst en route through Alberta, he met and fell in love with Mildred Harris of Calgary who shared his ideals and dreams. Together they moved to British Columbia, settling in the Vancouver area in 1934.
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Hardy and Lenore Kaye, along with a handful of other pioneers, joined forces with Ray and Mildred to form the Van-Tan Club in 1939 — to-day, Canada’s oldest nude organization. However, the Connetts (rhymes with CADETS) soon became critical of the club’s secrecy. They dreamed of a social nudist club that could provide indoor activities during the winter and do so sans the clandestine of backwoods locations or underground publications. Ray and Mildred wanted to bring to Canada a respectful public view of organize nude recreation based on successful clubs in the United Kingdom and United States. They observed that with tactful publicity and good neighbour policies, gaining acceptance and membership would prove successful.

As with many dreams of that era, theirs were put on hold as the effects of The Depression and a looming war shifted priorities. Ray, like many patriotic Canadian men, enlisted in the Army in the summer of 1939 whilst Mildred kept the home-fire burning. After signalman’s training on Vancouver’s Tower Beach — his first exposure to Wreck Beach — Ray went to Ontario’s CFB Camp Borden and the Royal Military College before shipping to England in 1941. He eventually served active duty in Italy where he found time for nudism in the fields, hills and beaches of Italy, and urged his fellow soldiers to keep their freedom from inhibition alive after the War. “My experience abroad strengthened a determination to see nudism grow in strength and power in Canada,” Ray commented years later.

Sunny Trails Club

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In the late 1940s, the very idea of social nudity in Canada was still seen as subversive. Unconcerned about damage to their personal reputation, both Ray and Mildred became avid public promoters. At a time when information about naturism was scarce and newspapers would not carry naturist advertising, the Connetts became key contacts for people looking for clubs in their areas. Ray was a prolific writer and helped organize fellow Canadians interested in naturism; Mildred provided support and handled the overflow of correspondences. They also were an important resource for new clubs, reflecting on their experiences and lack of network when the Van-Tans first started.
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Their dream finally came to fruition in 1952 with a chance meeting with a Surrey farmer at the Post Office in which Ray worked. On the Labour Day week-end of 1952, Ray and Mildred greeted the first members and guest to Sunny Trails Club on the cleared grounds of a 42-acre paddock just east of Vancouver. In keeping with their philosophy, the Connetts and other members routinely met with chambers of commerce, city hall, local school PTAs and even the RCMP to properly define nudism and introduce the club in the most positive light. Once the Surrey Municipal Council had debated its legitimacy, they cheerfully granted Sunny Trails with a legal and above-board endorsement.

Glen Eden Sun Club

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By the end of the decade, Ray and Mildred were craving the warmth of year-round sunshine, something the Lower Mainland was severely lacking. With trailer in tow and all their belongings, the Connetts bid British Columbia adieu and headed south of the boarder towards Southern California. They moved to Olive Dell Ranch in the hills above Colton, California, where they sought to find enough land to establish another nudist club. From their base camp, they were joined by real estate agent and nudist Cliff Kennedy in investigating every available parcel. Then, at an abandoned 90-acre olive ranch alongside Indian Truck Trail at the foot of Santiago Peak in Temescal Canyon, Ray and Mildred’s quest was realized — and, in 1963, the property for Glen Eden Sun Club was purchased at $300 an acre (additional land purchases over the years would bring the sun club’s area to its current 150 acres).
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What lie ahead of them was a repeat of the work the Connetts done eleven years earlier, save one factor: the Southern California sun! The blood, sweat and sheer determination to clear the dense shrubbery, move trees and create roads were on a large part volunteer work. Rainy seasons brought serious floods; the dry seasons brought raging forest fires; and myopic neighbours brought threats of legal action and closure. With the discovery of an endless water supply only thirty-seven feet underground and installation of adequate electric lines, Glen Eden was poised for decades of continued growth. Ray’s instinctive talent for marketing and public relations kept the pieces together. Then, after three years at the helm, the club’s members received an unbelievable gift.

The Retirement Years

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On the 15th July, 1966, Ray and Mildred — after realizing their long-standing dream for a second time — transferred ownership of Glen Eden Sun Club to the Glen Eden Corporation with charter members becoming directors on the Board. Modern business and management techniques are credited in keeping the resort in the forefront of nudist recreation facilities.
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Ray and Mildred retired to their trailer on a knoll overlooking the entrance to Glen Eden. Over the years, the couple stayed active with positive promotions, working in conjunction with the American Sunbathing Association and later American Association for Nude Recreation. Ray also made a few public appearances on behalf of nudism, most notably his appearance on Donahue in 1994. All the while, Mildred’s heath was deteriorating from Alzheimer's disease to point she was moved to a nearby nursing home. Nonetheless, Ray would bring her to the club several times a week to soothe her aching joints in the spa.
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It was during one such visit — on Wednesday, 16th April, 1997 — both Ray and Mildred were found together, unresponsive, in a Jacuzzi. GESC general manager Richard Hirst later stated that it appeared that the couple had fallen asleep in the warm waters and quietly past-away in each other’s arms. Yet the tireless efforts of the Connetts will not be forgotten and their legacy lives in each and every nudist resort in North America.

Legacy

The Connetts had a profound impact of nudism in both their native Canada as well as their adopted United States. At a time when the very idea of social nudity was viewed as subversive, Ray and Mildred sallied forth with their very public promotions. Simply, they knew that sun clubs would not grow and prosper if they stayed in the shadows.

Van-Tan Club, which they helped found in 1939, continues as the oldest Canadian nudist organization. Their rustic three hectare private park still stands above North Vancouver for the enjoyment of social nudism. The club also sponsors year-’round nude swims nights in conjunction with two other local clubs and maintain a Facebook page for updated information.

Bare Oaks Naturist Park honours the Connetts with a street dedicated to them
Sunny Trails Club enjoyed nearly four decades of rocky success at their Surrey location before Vancouver’s plans for Tynehead Park forced the membership to seek new lands. After the Liberal Party mayor blocked the club’s rezoning proposal on a twelve hectare parcel near the southern border, STC remained at the original property until they were able to purchase a dilapidated trailer park in Fraser Valley’s Lake Errock area. To-day, Sunny Trails is essentially a non-landed club, still associated with FCN and AANR but the campground went textile to keep from going bankrupt.

Glen Eden Sun Club is now marketed as Glen Eden Nudist Resort — with the public use of NUDIST perhaps in homage to Ray and Mildred’s blunt honesty. The non-profit 501(c)7 membership club has developed into one of Southern California’s favourite nudist destinations. Since its opening in 1963, Glen Eden has seen several expansions to its permanent residences with a new area being graded in early 2012.

Western Nudist Research Library at Glen Eden Resort
Ray and Mildred’s mid-century house-trailer still stands atop Glen Eden’s Connett Grove and now serves as the home for the Western Nudist Research Library. The interior was gutted and renovated to provide a centralized location for collecting, preserving and displaying materials related to the origin and development of the American Social Nudist movement. To have such a facility housed in their old residence surely has the Connetts looking upon their lives’ work with satisfaction.
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