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Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Skinny dipping for sake of lake

Skinny dipping for sake of lake

Jun 2, 2005

The way Deborah Barnes remembers it, she didn't have much time to think before it actually happened.

She remembers a phone call from Jane Meredith, a neighbour and friend, who told Ms Barnes she and Annabel Slaight, another resident of their Georgina neighbourhood, had a way to bring public attention to the state of Lake Simcoe.

Naturally, Ms Barnes, 37, a sales representative for a Toronto furniture company and mother of three, couldn't say no to her friends and agreed to do whatever it took to help with their project.

And that, basically, is how she ended up standing nude on the Lake Simcoe shoreline one blustery afternoon last November, holding her daughter, Paris, in her arms.

"It was chilly and my daughter was clinging to me," she said, laughing. "But it was kind of nice because she was keeping me warm as much as I was comforting her."

Baring it all for a good cause -- in this case posing for a calendar designed to raise $250,000 for conservation efforts -- isn't a new idea, as anyone who saw the movie Calendar Girls can tell you.

Based on a true story, the movie told the tale of a group of middle-aged British women who decided it might be fun to raise money for leukemia research by posing semi-nude for a calendar, inadvertently causing a worldwide sensation and selling millions more calendars than they ever dreamed.

But as Ms Meredith, a grandmother and one of the Ladies of the Lake puts it, it's not quite the same idea.

"We are not inside sitting behind a potted plant," she said, pointing to a group photo showing her wearing a long silken scarf, and little else, in an autumnal setting near Sibbald Point. "We're outside in the elements on, in or beside the lake."

In one photo, a group of women huddle inside an ice-fishing hut off Innisfil's De Grassi Point, while another winter shot shows two semi-clad women mushing across the ice in a dogsled ... a photo shoot that went smoothly until the six Siberian huskies spotted some people walking their dogs and took off.

Fortunately, the dog handler was able to get the dogs back before the dog walkers got a view of nature they didn't expect.

The prospect of appearing unclothed in these open spaces might not appeal to everyone, but Ms Barnes, who had never posed nude before, said it wasn't that big a deal.

"It wasn't about me and Paris so much as it was about capturing the beauty of the lake at that time," she said.

"When we arrived on site, it was more, 'OK, jump in.' It was quite quick, very spontaneous and natural. I wasn't even aware I was naked; I didn't have time to reflect on it."

The calendar, which is available in August for $15, came about when members of the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition thought of ways to bring attention to the lake's health, which is being endangered by an estimated 100 tons of phosphorus annually.

Last year, the coalition launched the WAVE Healthy Yards/Healthy Lawns program, a campaign to educate Georgina residents about the need to reduce fertilizer runoff, which contributes to excessive weed and algae growth in the water.

"I've been here every summer of my life and lived here full-time 10 years," Ms Meredith said.

"We didn't even think about drinking the water from the lake then, but you certainly would now."

Last fall, Ms Meredith and Ms Slaight were throwing around suggestions for raising more money for the campaign when the idea of auctioning off a handmade canoe came up.

"Then someone mentioned bringing the canoe into the room with naked ladies carrying it or have naked women sitting in it and that will really raise the roof," Ms Meredith said. "We just kind of took it from there."

After some quick research and meetings with publishing experts, they hired Toronto photographer Jim Panou, scouted locations and set about finding local women brave enough to bare all for a good cause.

Surprisingly, as in the case of Ms Barnes, it wasn't that hard a sell, with about 40 women coming out for the first meeting.

"I didn't think too much about it because I knew the people involved and I knew it would be well-executed," Ms Barnes said. "I knew it was going to be very tasteful."

Since then, the Ladies of the Lake calendar project has grown to include dozens of women in front of the camera and behind the scenes.

Hilary Van Welter, owner of Ascentia Business Spa in Newmarket, came on board in January to lend her expertise to the project, which she said is an example of "serendipity and spontaneity" working together.

Ms Van Welter is one of the organizers of a rally at De Grassi Point Saturday at 10 a.m., a chance to muster the troops and welcome new volunteers who want to help spread word of the calendar to area businesses and non-profit groups.

Want to get involved? Phone Jane Meredith at 905-476-4045 or visit


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