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My Sauna Timeline

An incomplete list of some of the sauna highlights (and lowlights) that helped shape my saunaverse.

Sauna Timeline

1975 - Present Day: A chronology.

June 1975 

Born. Regrettably not in a sauna. Toronto, Ontario

September 1975 

First sauna bath. Age: 4 months. Georgian Bay, Ontario. 

September 1975 

Second, third and fourth sauna baths. You get the point… Georgian Bay, Ontario.

Summer 1978 

My grandmother’s Lake Superior sauna burns to the ground, taking with it her three little dogs. My first exposure to the risks of improperly installed wood-burning heaters. Thunder Bay, Ontario

Summer 1985    

my first visit to Kangas Sauna (KS), at the time (and perhaps still) the largest sauna spa in Canada. Founded by my great aunt Lyyli Kangas in 1967, today KS has 16 saunas and remains a cultural institution. Thunder Bay, Ontario. 

August 1986 

My first exposure to North American sauna “culture”. Hotel sauna sign says, “Do not pour water on rocks, elements may explode”. Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

June 1987 

Family cottage sauna Number 2 is consecrated on the shores of Mountain Basin, a small lake near Parry Sound, Ontario. The custom-made heater (by my father), the Hotpert, is fabricated from crematorium grade steel so as to better be able to cook its inhabitants. 

August 1991 

First mobile sauna experience. A beautiful sauna trailer was hauled to the beach of my Finnish church camp. We accidentally almost burned it to the ground but boy did she pump out great löylys. Bracebridge, Ontario.

June 1992 

A pilgrimage to the sauna my father grew up using on the family farm in Finland. A very spiritual experience as over its many decades of use it had played host to numerous births and death rituals. Huhtimäki, Finland

December 1996 

Dad builds a second-floor sauna at the family home in Don Mills, Ontario. This becomes my go-to Toronto sauna for years, much to the chagrin of the neighbours who were less than impressed with my naked front yard snow rolls.

Summer 1998 

My first savusauna (smoke sauna) experience. My father indulged me with a visit to his childhood friend’s house where a century old smoke sauna was still in regular use. The experience was ethereal; a dark chamber with soot covered walls and deep, immersive heat, the memory is still fresh today. 

June 2000 

An epically memorable early morning (late night) sauna aboard the Silja Line cruise ship as the sun rose over the Gulf of Bothnia, somewhere between Finland and Sweden.

June 2000 

Sauna in Estonia. Estonia is a hotbed of sauna culture and its capital Tallinn did not disappoint. 

September 2003 

My final sauna with my father – the man who instilled my passion for sauna and taught me the foundational physics and principles of sauna building. He passed away a month later at the age of 59. Mountain Basin, Ontario.

May 2005 

A pilgrimage to Finland’s official home of sauna; the Finnish Sauna Society (FSS). Situated on the edge of the Baltic Sea, the FSS has six saunas of varying descriptions and temperatures including one that reportedly reaches 150C. At the time of our visit at least, there was an unofficial rule in place that this hottest of saunas was the only one where you did not have to ask the other bathers before throwing löyly. It was also the favourite sauna of one of Finland’s leading actors (and fervent sauna enthusiast) who was in said sauna when we sauntered in, perched in his usual spot on the top bench. After sitting next to him for a few minutes, we proceeded to throw some löyly which produced a blistering steam that slowly wafted over the room. Soon a couple of grunts emanated from our left followed by an angry glance our way before he stood up and left the sauna in a huff. Apparently, we had disturbed his ritual with our love of löyly. At least he had 5 other sauna options to go get his sweat on. 

November 2009 

My first sauna in China. Shanghai has a thriving spa culture and while their saunas aren’t as hot as I would have liked, they certainly were unique. I visited over 15 saunas in Shanghai and Beijing over the course of the next 5 years. Note to future travelers to China: be careful what kind of “sauna” you ask for! 

February 2011 

Erected a military tent sauna in the middle of icebound Lac de me lac in Northern Ontario. There for an ice-fishing weekend, my good pal Jaakko brought his trusty tent sauna along. The sauna was assembled next to the Hardwater Hotel (my boy Alan’s glorious ice-fishing adobe) with a portable wood fired heater placed in the middle. Eight of us crowded in there and were amazed at the 100C heat this little baby generated. During the course of our sauna rounds, the “floor” of the sauna lowered by about 6 inches as the ice around the stove melted. Luckily there was another 18 inches of ice to go. 

April 2013

My first visit to the Southwestern Bathhouse. At the time one of Toronto's only public sauna (banya) spas, it did not disappoint. Tucked away in an obscure strip mall, the unassuming entrance lead into a wonderful world of European bathing cultures. But the best part is the kitschy Russian restaurant and bar with Soviet era propaganda, red vinyl banquettes and communal dining tables. Exceptional food as well. 

May 2015 

Fatherhood milestone! Like my father before me, I had the honour of introducing my first born Miia to sauna at the ripe age of 4 months. 

May 2015 

One of my most poignant sauna memories - I had the privilege of washing my grandmother during her final sauna in her Lake Superior sauna in Thunder Bay, Ontario shortly before her passing. 

April 2017 

Due to Emmi being born in late October of the previous year, it wasn’t until the ripe old age of 6 months that she received her sauna baptism. I am happy to report that almost 7 years later she is a hardened little sauna warrior who regularly throws löyly bombs with impunity.  

September 2017 

My first Aufguss experience – and first visit to North America’s largest outdoor spa; Nordik Spa, in Gatineau, Quebec. With 7 saunas and multiple plunge pools (and succulent infinity pool beer garden), it was a cornucopia of sensory stimulation. 

October 2019 

Discovered secret glacier-fed riverside wilderness sauna in Squamish, British Colombia. After a four-hour search through rugged and dense forest I finally found what to that point had only been a rumour – a secret sauna built by a local Finnish-Canadian dude meant only for those able to find it. 

November 2019 

My first Swiss sauna experience. At my friend Ville’s gorgeous lakeside rooftop sauna in the quaint village of Murg. 

November 2019 

Berlin Aufguss Sauna tour! Visited 10 of the dozens of public saunas in Berlin over the course of a week. Unlike the current sauna boom in North America where saunas are largely tied into broader holistic wellness therapies, in Berlin saunas seem to be the heartbeat of the neighbourhood. Replete with restaurants and bars and outdoor gardens, they are truly a place of community. Travel tip: in German sauna culture co-ed nudity is strictly enforced. 

March 2020 

Completed my first sauna build. In the backyard of our Don Mills home, this beauty coincidentally saw her first action just before the pandemic struck and I’m convinced my heavy sessions in it contributed to my rapid covid recovery time. To this day she still purrs like a kitten when tickled and roars like a lion when aroused.

September 2022 

Toronto Life calls Markus Raty the “Cookie Monster of saunas” as part of a feature piece on biohacking. 

January 2023 

First Costa Rican sauna experience. The sauna at the beautiful Hacienda del Sol wellness resort is built in the middle of a tropical rainforest replete with a sensationally refreshing cold plunge pool. 

February 2023 

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February 2023 

The launch of Norden Sauna, a sauna consult and design company whose mission it is to bring authentic Finnish sauna experiences to the Greater Toronto Area.

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