The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto has opened a sweat lodge

Via the Toronto Star:

“The opening of the [sweat] lodge, a sacred fire, and medicine garden, at CAMH, is a first in Ontario.

“It will provide the setting for sweat ceremonies, a First Nations cleansing practice. Led by an elder, heated rocks — called grandmothers and grandmothers — are selected and placed within the lodge. The traditional ceremony is designed to help purge body and mind of past abuse and trauma.

“This practice, [Diane] Longboat said, is essential on the path to recovery.”

Toronto Has a Japanese Hot Spring by the Lake RIGHT NOW!

Via Toronto Life:

“The third annual Winter Stations Design Competition is back. From February 20 to March 27, eight installations will transform lifeguard stands on Kew, Scarborough and Balmy beaches (between Woodbine and Victoria Park).”

Included:

“Asuka Kono and Rachel Salmela’s Japanese hot spring-inspired installation called I See You Asjiyu

Toronto History – 2000’s Bathhouse Raids

Bathhouse raids have a long and powerful history in Toronto being one of the main catalysts for the Pride Parade and clamp downs on Toronto Police excess (killings, general breaking of the law, etc).

The most well known raids of gay male-bathhouses in the 1980’s contributed to the founding of the Pride Parade and this infamous media response:

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js 

Less well known is the early 2000’s raids of women’s bathhouses by 6 male officers.  According to the CBC, “Toronto police officers raided a party at the Club Toronto bathhouse where they barged in on women, many of whom were naked.”

Club goers described the incident as “terrifying and very dangerous” while one of the organizers was arrested and charged with liquor violations.

Toronto Police apologized for the raid in 2016, one year before they were kicked out of the Pride Parade, but – kinda shockingly – 16 years after the raid itself.

A group of women, strip-searched during the raid rejected the apology saying ‘it isn’t meaningful and comes with no real change’.

You can read the CBC story here.

Review: Toronto Sauna – Secrets of Centre Island

Let me be straight from the start.  When normal people are invited to a secluded island during the winter for a random sauna near an old abandoned primary school, they usually spot the horror plot and take a pass.

When folks at Toronto Sauna are invited: we bring scrubbies, sandals and a notepad.

Toronto is host to dozens of top-flight saunas.  While you can find everything ranging from Korean to gay to high-end, almost nothing beats the rustic, out-in-the-country sauna, especially when that sauna is in full view of the City and a 30 minute transit ride away.

Toronto Islands are a quick 15 minute ferry ride  from the South coast of downtown Toronto. Comprising the only group of islands in the western part of Lake Ontario, they also comprise the largest urban car-free community in North America.

While the place is packed during the summers – especially the nude, gay, hook-up beach – the isolated, forested and path-laden park is often a destination for folks just wanting to get away from the crush of Toronto.

Folks from TorontoSauna headed over on a lovely warm winter Sunday and after a long haul we came upon an abandoned school.

IMG_1899

While a little creepy, we also knew we were on the verge of a sweet sauna experience so continued on, though this has been the source of some very poor decisions in the past.

After some bushwacking and milling about we ran into the owner and builder of the sauna who we’ll just call “Forrest”, a tall drink of water from North York.

Forrest was the former super-intendent of the school, who was now back in the City visiting the island consistently for a host of reasons including some fine sauna maintenance.

The sauna, built a few years before, was small, compact, hot and portable: it had been gerrymandered to be able to hitch it up to a car and wheel it away.

The layout, only seating 6, felt a little claustrophobic,  but when the stove got a wail’in one is happy that you’re so close to the door at cooking all the same.  While there’s a stove top (done in the classic traditional Russian village style), things never get hot to the point where you can get steam…using scarce Toronto Island wood supplies, our impression is that the sauna normally gets used pretty quickly after fire-up and shut down right after.

Forrest fired it up, sat, sweated and explained at great detail how the sauna was built.  With our extensive building and construction background, we picked up the following from him:

“blah blah blah, cross-brace…rivet…saddle-stitch…blah blah blah”

Ok.  Maybe we weren’t paying attention all that well, but it’s not our fault.  The sauna is gorgeous and hot, done in a light yellow “Prairie House” hue, clean, mould free, woodsy-smelling with a large circular window in the front that gives a wonderful view of the wooded environs and a sandy path to the lake. It’s hard to focus on anything but getting your sweat on.

For any knocks against the Secret Centre Island Sauna that might exist (how do you knock a home-made portable, clean sauna?) like a lack of sit-down space, shower or nearby bathroom – the proximity to the lake brushes all of it away, giving this place the distinction of having a low-facilties-grade, 5 out of 5.

You can literally walk out of the sauna, down a sandy path for 30 seconds and plunge into the lake.  During winter.

There are lots of tourists on the beach in winter. Bundled up for the cold.  This is what they come across.

IMG_1902

Forrest and the rest of his merry band of sauna goers are extremely affable and they create a lovely sauna experience for all who are lucky enough to be able to visit.  While you might be able to get away with some smooching as a queer couple, it’s a wholesome family affair of friends and acquaintances who might show up (along with some tourists), so expect to keep things rated PG-13, but queer/trans people are obviously welcome.  Also, being a woodland sauna near a sandy beach, with few ramps or accessible paths in site, using the sauna could be an ordeal for anyone with mobility issues, though you might be able to manage something during a dry day with some help from some friends.

All in all, The Secret of Centre Island sauna is a lovely sauna experience that goes right up there with the hidden sauna on Concord Ave. Small, secret, hot and clean with an amazing cool pool (Lake Ontario), a beach and good company; it’s one the things that makes Toronto’s sauna scene so rich and diverse.

Really the only thing it’s missing is a Scooby Doo plotline where we find out that the ghost haunting the sauna has actually been old school super-intendent Forrest the whole time.

Overall Rating (Out of 5): 5/5

Cleanliness: 5/5

Facilities: 3/5

Cost:  Free (by invite only)

Coed: yup.

Queer or Straight: any

Facilities: One 6 seater portable sauna, hooks for jackets/clothes/robes, a huge beach, Lake Ontario.

(hat tip – jstanton.ca)

 

 

Review: International Sauna – Germany, Berlin – Vabali Spa

After Norway, Finland, Turkey and Iceland, it was about time Toronto Sauna hit the baths in Germany.

There are a host of different regional baths worldwide – Korean and Japanese spas, Russian, Turkish Hammams, Finish – and the Germans have there own special sauna-ways as well.

First and foremost, almost all Germans saunas are coed and naked.  Young and old parade around drinking dark beers, eating delicious foods and baking themselves to a crisp in saunas that turn up the heat en masse.

Second, they all have a reputation for being huge and lavish.

We hit up Vabali Spa in Berlin to see what all the fuss was about.

Vabali is huge, overwhelming and perfect.  Located about a 10 minute work from Berlin’s main railway station (HfB) its a sauna paradise with about 10 different saunas, 2 – 3 main pools, dozens of different lounge areas, a full bar and restaurant service and staff trained to squeeze every last ounce of sweat from your core.

Prices vary by the amount of time you spend there from 20.50€ for a 2 hour jot with 35.50€ being an all day pass.  They are open from 9am to midnight.

The entrance is expansive and ceremonial.  You walk down a long entrance pavilion that feels like you’re about to enter a poorer-version of the palace of the Last Emperor of China. It’s a little hokey (it’s based on Indonesian Balinese architecture), but it’s so big that they’ve obviously thrown a lot of money around…and this is just the entrance.

Like a classic Russian place you get an electronic bracelet for your locker and ordering food, drinks, etc., towels and a bathrobe and in you go.

Here at Toronto Sauna we often start to judge a sauna place by it’s change rooms.  In that light, we had good feelings about Vabali – there were lockers galore, everything was clean, lots of space and while everything was co-ed, they siphoned off a room for women who wanted some privacy.  A nice and necessary touch.

After the change rooms you are thrust into a confusing labyrinth of rooms and hallways. While we at first thought that Vabali was guilty of Elmwood-disease, the amazing part of it is that a map or service staff wouldn’t really help.  As you can see from the map above, Vabali is just so big that there’s no easy way not to get lost in the expansive sprawl of lounge rooms, sauna offshoots, amenity rooms and other places we didn’t even get to in the 4 hours we spent. The place is 20,000 square metres.

There are nice showers, bathrooms, water filling stations, a fireplace reading library, lounge beds recliners, fountains, pools, grassy knolls…they have it all.

The saunas range too: indoor aromatherapy, panorama, women-only, herbal, organic lounge, steam rooms, Russian…we’re not making any of this up.

Additionally, in between a full service restaurant stacked with booze and delicious food, you can also hit up cold-fresh lap pools, warm lounging pools, hot-tubs, cool pools, shower and bucket areas, etc.  The bathrooms are also plentiful and clean.

Probably the most overwhelming nature of the saunas are the Infusions.

There’s an actual schedule were they will rotate through the various saunas providing a special ceremonial herbal infusion to a particular sauna.  Here’s an example of their Mon – Thurs ‘schedule’:

10.00 AM     Green Tea
11.00 AM     Sandalwood Peeling
11.00 AM     Singing Bowl Infusion
11.30 PM     Wenik Infusion
12.00 PM     Honey Infusion

…and on and on it goes until 11pm.

The infusions are part ceremony, part educational lecture and part endurance test.  A young skin-taught man or woman enters, bucket in hand strolling through like a sauna-priest ready to bless any and all. They put the bucket down and start explaining the nature of the herbal infusion, it’s history and effects on the body (this was mostly translated by a German member of TS). Anywhere from 30 to 60 people are jammed into these saunas that range from large to small, and everyone has the appearance of a giddy school-child patiently waiting with excited anticipation.

They then start slowly pouring herbal-infused water over the rocks smashing a wave of lovely scented boiling-hot steam over one’s body.  They then grab a towel and waft the hot steam over everyone section by section in some kind of Game-of-Thrones-esque water dance.  Then they do it again.  And then again.  And just when you feel the need to run screaming out of place and gasp for cold air, the ceremony is over, they open the doors and people stand and applaud as if they just saw Neil Patrick Harris’ opening to the Tony’s.

In addition to the nice gender dynamics of the space, everything is at a ground level grade with many ramps and some accessible bathrooms.  Berlin is big on infrastructure, and disability accessibility but they don’t really outline how accessible the space is in their FAQ and one of us didn’t know any German to be able to ask.  You’d have to email in advance to find out about accessibility of all kinds, but there’s enough space and amenities that you’d likely find something that works.

Overall, Vabali is a Berlin wonderland with any and everything you can ask for: people, food, drinks, over-the-top amenities and a sense of culture.

And everyone is naked!

Overall Rating (Out of 5): 5/5

Cleanliness: 5/5

Facilities: 5/5

Cost:  2hour, 4 hour and all day passes. 20.50€ for 2 hour;  35.50€ being an all day pass

Coed: yup.  Though there are a few women only areas.

Queer or Straight: any

Facilities: 20,000 square meters: lounging areas, 8 saunas, steam room, women’s-only sauna, numerous pools, numerous shower areas, hot tub, cool pool, full restaurant, full bar, outdoor lounging areas, fireplace library, coed and women’s only change areas.

Saunas = less dementia

Our good friends in Finland have done it again!

One of my favourite books on coffee was a collection of academic studies on the effects of coffee – almost all were done in Norway which is one of the highest (and stable) coffee-drinking nations on earth per capita.

So of course a study on sauna-usage would come from Finland.

The study, from the University of Eastern Finland, was published this month and found that “In a 20-year follow-up, men taking a sauna 4-7 times a week were 66% less likely to be diagnosed with dementia than those taking a sauna once a week. The association between sauna bathing and dementia risk has not been previously investigated.”

The bad news: like most academic studies, the work is narrow, so they haven’t done similar work on women, though there’s a chance that this could already be in the works as gender politics in the Nordic countries are usually better than most others.

Also – how many of our readers to 4 – 7 saunas a day?  Seriously.

You can read an abstract of the study here:  https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/12/161216114143.htm#.WFZ2lOKUIck.facebook

sauna

Apocalyptic Hipster Sauna

True, a floating sauna on a lake sounds like a marvellous idea, even if it took a $25K kickstarter campaign to make it happen.  Having a middle of the lake sauna, with a gigantic cool pool to jump into sounds like a dream and the engineering and conceputal work is impressive.

Still, when an article boasts that: “Rising sea levels and a shortage of development sites are leading to a surge of interest in floating buildings, with proposals ranging from mass housing on London’s canals to entire amphibious cities in China,” maybe infrastructural “hacks” are less important that the elimination of our species.

The concept, called WA Sauna, after Washington State, is a work from goCstudio, a firm founded in 2012 by Jon Gentry and Aimée O’Carroll.

The sauna weighs approximately 4,500 pounds, is typically moored at Lake Union in Seattle and is available for two- to three-hour trips around the 580-acre freshwater lake when the designers trot it out.

It is also one sexy sauna.

wa-sauna-gocstudio-floating-architecture-seattle-washington-usa_dezeen_936_5

Hat Tip: DOJ