British Columbia

Several B.C. polar bear swims cancelled or moved online over COVID-19

A venerable New Year's Day tradition is being put on hold in several B.C. communities for the second year in a row as COVID-19 case counts continue to rise.

For the 2nd year in a row, some polar bear swims in B.C. have been impacted by the pandemic

A woman reacts while participating in the 100th anniversary Polar Bear Swim at English Bay in Vancouver on Jan. 1, 2020. The 2022 event has been moved online as COVID-19 case counts continue to rise across B.C. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

A venerable New Year's Day tradition is being put on hold in several B.C. communities for the second year in a row as COVID-19 case counts continue to rise. 

Vancouver's Polar Bear Swim, which sees swimmers brave the icy cold waters of English Bay, will not take place on Saturday.

In its place, organizers have asked participants to take a "digital dip" at 2 p.m. PT by dunking themselves into a bathtub or pool filled with cold water (at least 7 C) and sharing a photo or video online using the hashtag #VanPolarBearSwim.

Those who register on the City of Vancouver website will receive a commemorative certificate.

Vancouver's Polar Bear Swim founder, Peter Pantages, is pictured standing in the snow in 1927. (Vancouver Park Board)

More than 7,000 swimmers registered for the virtual dip last January after the century-old event moved online due to pandemic restrictions.

Still, several swimmers kept with tradition and jumped into the frigid ocean water at English Bay on New Year's Day.

The last official in-person polar bear swim at English Bay took place on Jan. 1, 2020, marking the 100th anniversary of the event. The tradition was started in 1920 by Peter Pantages, who had recently immigrated from Greece.

'My first polar bear dip was when I was 3 months old'

4 years ago
Duration 1:53
Featured VideoLisa Pantages shares the story of her family's connection to the New Year's Day polar bear swim in Vancouver.

Elsewhere, organizers of the The Polar Bear Plunge near the White Rock Pier said the swim will not take place in person this year.

The Port Moody Penguin Plunge has also been cancelled, as has the Polar Bear Swim planned for Sidney on Vancouver Island.

A polar bear swim in Colwood, southwest of Victoria, has now been cancelled after initially being scheduled to start on New Year's Day.

Event organizer Chris Kelsall said he came to the decision independent of sponsor or governmental pressure. It is the second year in a row the event has been cancelled.

"Virtual polar bear swims to wash away 2020 and 2021 and dive into the new year refreshed are still recommended at a beach of your choice and away from others," he said in a statement.

Kelsall said the event, which was to raise funds for Victoria Women's Transition House, has drawn 2,000 to 3,000 people to the lagoon in the past. 

Much of the province has experienced Arctic outflow and extreme cold warnings in recent days. Below average temperatures are expected into the new year.