Cross-Canada polar bear dips raise cash for charities

People in several Canadian cities plunge into icy water to mark New Year's Day with polar bear dips.

Rather than pledge to shed unwanted pounds or make more money, Al Peterson decided to be realistic, as usual. He opted to start 2012 with a dip in 7 C ocean water.

For the 34th year in a row, the 58-year-old was down at Vancouver's English Bay with his family for one of the oldest polar bear swims in the country.

"Rather than a New Year's resolution, which we don't keep anyway, we just wash off the old and start with the new," Peterson said, standing on wet sand among hordes of participants.

"And wash off that nasty hangover," joked his 23-year-old son Jason, who took his first dip at the turn of the millennium.

The father and son joined more than 2,100 people on Sunday for the annual dip that has spawned sister events across the country since it began 92 years ago. Many raise money for charity or, in Vancouver, food for the food bank.

Thousands more camera-clicking spectators gathered on the balmy 5 C day under a bright sun to watch the spectacle.

No hestitation

When the lifeguard's whistle blew, no one appeared to have cold feet.

Revellers in themed costumes ranging from superheros to reindeer and mermaids splashed into the sea, frolicking in the frigid waves.

"After you lose the feeling in your limbs, it's quite nice," said Tarrin McDonough, 40.

She and her sister Sorrel donned a giant paper mache Jaws costume, their heads peaking out from behind a sharp set of Styrofoam teeth.

Crashing into the cold water on the first day of a new year is a bonding experience, they said. But they don't expect it to be the peak of their 2012.

"No, this is just getting started. We like to start with a bang," Sorrel McDonough said.

It was an unseasonal 4 C in Toronto when the dippers in swim suits — and some sporting headgear that included Viking-style horns — took the plunge at Sunnyside Beach at noon Sunday.

Some had done this several times since the first dip in 2006 but others were first-timers attracted by the chance to raise money for Habitat For Humanity or giving in to the urgings of family and friends.

Joe McCallion was one of the first timers, who was there at the urging of his daughter.

"It's off the bucket list," a laughing McCallion said after taking the plunge.

"I conquered it. Probably be back next year, too."

For Jennifer Noddle, her first dip was a New Year's Eve decision.

"I saw a preview of it last night [Saturday] and a couple of us went out to the pub last night and just decided we would do it," Noddle said. "It was for a good cause and a good way to ring in the new year."

Organizers were hoping to raise $40,000 for Habitat For Humanity.

Laura McMahon said she was back for a third year to raise money for Habitat.

"It wakes you up after New Year's Eve," she said. "It's a lot of fun. You do it with family, with friends, you see some people year after year it's exciting."

Atlantic chill

Meanwhile, more than 150 people braved brisk winds and frigid water temperatures to plunge into the Atlantic Ocean near Halifax as part of an annual New Year's Day polar bear dip.

People young and old donned bikinis and swimming trunks for a brief-but-bitter dip into the icy waters in Herring Cove at noon Sunday.

Rob MacLellan, organizer of the event and a 14-year participant, says about $5000 was raised for local food bank Feed Nova Scotia.

Firefighters, police and emergency personnel were on hand to oversee the action and sent 20 people at a time to jump off the dock.

MacLellan, 54, compared the experience to being stabbed with needles thousands times.

He said the weather was ideal, with the temperature hovering at about 1 C and the sun peeking through the clouds.