February 25th, 2024

Canadians across country celebrate New Year’s Day with polar bear swims

By Lyndsay Armstrong and Ritika Dubey, The Canadian Press on January 1, 2024.

People participate in the annual New Years Day Polar Bear Dip in Oakville, Ont., on Sunday, January 1, 2023. Hundreds of Canadians are planning to put the old year on ice by ushering 2024 in with a polar bear swim, though perhaps in smaller numbers than in New Years Days past.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Arlyn McAdorey

Hundreds of people across Canada shrieked, shivered and smiled their way into a new year on Monday as they took part in the long-standing tradition of Jan. 1 polar bear dips.

Canadians have been marking New Year’s Day with plunges into lakes, oceans and rivers made frigid by typical January conditions since at least 1920, and scheduled events in cities spanning Halifax to Vancouver were poised to maintain the ritual.

Joanie McNally, from Sackville, N.S., lost no time in kicking off this year’s polar dips when she ran into the icy ocean water at Queensland Beach on Nova Scotia’s South Shore at 9 a.m. Monday morning. In doing so, she also fulfilled a long-standing personal goal.

“We’re always at this beach, but this is the first time (swimming) when it’s on the more frigid side,” she said moments before taking the plunge.

“It’s a bit of a challenge to start the new year on the right track.”

The temperature sat around -5 C as McNally and 11 other swimmers stripped off their winter jackets, mittens and hats and went off into the icy waves.

McNally’s husband and daughter, along with a handful of other spectators, cheered and hollered for the group as they ran from the frozen sand to the chilly water.

Dave Morash, also from the Sackville area, said this is the coldest polar plunge he’s done in at least six years.

Morash and a small group of fellow high school teachers have been doing the plunge together since 2018, but he says this is the first time since then that the temperature has been below zero on New Years Day.

“It’s invigorating, it’s like all of your nerve endings start tingling,” he said immediately after the dip.

“I always refer to it as a reboot, you sort of reboot your system like a computer. So here we go, here comes 2024,” he said with a laugh as he dried off.

Monday’s swim, while launching new traditions for some, also marked a departure from New Year’s Days past in Halifax.

For many years, swimmers jumped into the ocean from a city wharf as part of the Herring Cove Polar Bear Dip. The non-profit organization that had put on the event since 1994 cancelled the 2021 dip due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and has not resumed since.

A recent social media post from the Herring Cove Polar Dip organization says it is “hoping to look at options going forward” for future events and asked for volunteer support.

When Halifax resident Darrell Robert found out there would not be an organized dip yet again this year, he suggested in comments on social media that people meet at Queensland Beach for an impromptu swim.

“It’s nice to corral people and motivate each other to do something new on a new year,” he said, adding he was pleased to see so many faces show up at the beach Monday morning.

“I like to see people get together as a community, I think it’s great and it’s a great start to the new year.”

Small groups of cold-water swimmers are expected to do their own polar plunges throughout Nova Scotia. More than 20 swimmers in Halifax took an icy plunge into the Northwest Arm at Sir Sandford Fleming Park.

Similar events, many of which are intended to raise money for charity, are set to take place in locations including Charlottetown, Saint John, N.B. and Vancouver.

In Oakville, Ont., a city just west of Toronto, the return of sub-zero temperatures following days of unseasonably mild conditions proved no deterrent for the roughly 850 people who took part in a plunge at Coronation Park. The swim in Lake Ontario was intended to raise money for charity World Vision Canada.

CEO Michael Messenger said this year’s dip has so far raised $100,000 towards projects that help provide clean water in developing countries.

The 39th annual Oakville plunge marked the first such dip for 11-year-old Luca Tarabokia.

“I’m pretty excited for it because the waves look awesome and I like the waves,” Tarabokia said.

“It’s my first time. I want to do it again next year if it goes well.”

His mother, Jane Moran, called Tarabokia the “cold water representative” for their family.

“You’ve got to have a certain fortitude to be able to do this and I really, really admire those who are able to do it, but I’m not one of them,” she said with a laugh.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 1, 2024.

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