Nova Scotia

COVID-19 freezes out annual Herring Cove Polar Bear Dip, ending 25-year streak

The Herring Cove Polar Bear Dip in Halifax has been cancelled for January 2021. Organizers don't think such a big gathering can be safely held during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

COVID-19 pandemic claims another event as organizers err on the side of safety

An man braves the elements as he jumps from the government wharf into the icy waters of the North Atlantic in Herring Cove, N.S., in 2009. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

The Herring Cove Polar Bear Dip in Halifax has been cancelled for January 2021 as organizers don't think such a big gathering can be safely held during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Robert MacLellan, a member of the organizing committee, said it was sad news.

"We've never stopped the dip in 25 years," he said. "Mother Nature worked well with us. She gave us -25 wind chills and one year the harbour here was all iced up. One of the boats from Purcells Cove came down and broke it up and it continued on.

"The problems with Mother Nature, we were able to overcome, but the problems with COVID have put us in a position where we can't win, and we're not going to have the dip on Jan. 1, 2021."

MacLellan said that while jumping into a winter ocean doesn't cause any physical distancing issues, the preparation and safety measures do. Registering 200 people, plus volunteers, would be tricky to do in any indoor space, and the outdoors is too unpredictable in January.

Outside, they usually have police officers, firefighters, medical staff and a diver. 

"There's just too much to overcome," MacLellan said. 

They would normally start ordering T-shirts and getting business support now, hence the early decision to cancel it. 

Plus, the dip usually attracts many international students and visitors. They are in short supply at the moment. 

He said he'll miss the Canadian "baptism" experienced by first-timers as they dove into the frigid waters, and the vigorous awakening experienced by dippers looking to shake off the year gone by.

"I think we owed it to people to make a decision early, rather than keep everybody on a hook hoping for better news on COVID."

MacLellan hopes they can dip as normal in 2022.

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