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The abandoned ruins of Sun Valley Gardens – One of Canada’s first nudist resorts

November 2020

Opened in 1954 by Karl Ruehle and his wife Marlies, on a secluded 25-acre property near Pelham, Sun Valley Gardens was founded with the purpose of promoting nudism as a lifestyle.

Initially, Sun Valley Gardens had 18 members, but within a few years, there were 300 members. Guests stayed either in tents, trailers, or in one of the handful of small cabins spaced out across the property.

Amenities included a health club, communal bathing and massage, and a kidney-shaped swimming pool, and volleyball and badminton courts.

Social activities included dances, parties, games and competitions.

While the resort was a popular spot, Ruehle was severely lacking in his customer service skills, with many regarding him as dictatorial, frugal and over-bearing. He would chastise people for moving the camp furniture around, forbade alcohol, and kept many activities on a tight schedule.

Sun Valley Gardens was originally a couples resort, but later singles were allowed to become members.

Sun Valley Gardens even began to attract attention from the media and the film business. Famed CBC journalist June Callwood did an expose on the resort and Ruehle on her news program in 1961 “Close-up,” and two years after, a movie titled “Have Figure, Will Travel” was filmed at the resort, with with Ruehle acting as an advisor and playing a bit part in the movie.

By the time the 20th anniversary of Sun Valley Garden’s founding came along, the club was in decline, as was the membership. Ruehle’s abrasive personality and competition from other nudist resorts, many founded by former Sun Valley patrons, was cutting into the business.

Even though the resort’s entertainment was turned up a notch, his membership dwindled, with only one original member remaining. By 1974, the 20th anniversary of its founding.

The end came in 1982, when Ruehle closed the resort after trying for several years to sell the resort, ending a short 28-year existence.

Ruehle, now separated from his wife Marlies, held on to the property for several years afterwards, but the buildings were left to deteriorate. He died in August 2006 after suffering a stroke earlier that year.

The buildings remain on the property, but after 38 years, they are in poor condition. The floors in many of them are in a weakened condition, if they haven’t collapsed. The concrete pool has fared the best over the years, although it’s filled with algae-coloured water.

Sun Valley Gardens may have passed into history, but the legacy of this ground-breaking resort remains. Many of the nudist clubs currently operating in Ontario today owe their existence to Karl Ruehle’s vision.

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To see some historical photos of Sun Valley Gardens, which provide a good before and after perspective, go to this article from The Voice of Pelham, an independent news source:

https://thevoiceofpelham.ca/2020/12/25/slideshow-special-naturism-in-niagara

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Sources: https://thevoiceofpelham.ca/2019/07/18/pelhams-sun-valley-gardens-the-place-to-bare-it-all, https://abandonedexplorers.wordpress.com/2019/09/21/ontario-nudist-resort-abandoned-since-the-80s/comment-page-1, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sun_Valley_Gardens, https://www.bareoaks.ca/sun-valley-gardens, https://www.bareoaks.ca/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/files_SVG_Sunbathing-Annual-1965-50-55.pdf, https://www.bareoaks.ca/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/files_SVG_Sunbathing-for-Health-March-1957-p18-19.pdf, https://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/nudists-bare-all-for-journalist-june-callwood.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/the-abandoned-ruins-of-sun-valley-gardens-one-of-canadas-first-nudist-resorts/

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