PEI

COVID-19 prompts cancellation of Charlottetown polar bear dip

The annual polar bear plunge in Charlottetown will not be going ahead this year due to COVID-19. The event typically happens Jan. 1 at the Charlottetown Yacht Club.

'There wasn't a particularly easy way for us to adhere to ... [the] very wise guidelines in place right now'

About 100 swimmers took part in the Jan. 1, 2020, polar bear plunge. (Laura Meader/CBC)

The annual polar bear plunge in Charlottetown will not be going ahead this year due to COVID-19.

The event typically happens Jan. 1 at the Charlottetown Yacht Club.

"In the past couple of years, we've actually had to cut a square hole in the ice and have people jump in one by one," said co-organizer Cheryl Paynter. 

"It's a kind of tradition to ... wash away the year that was and meet the new year with an invigorating kind of jolt."

Paynter said depending on the weather, the event attracted anywhere between a dozen and a couple of hundred plungers and spectators in past years.

Every fibre in your body wants to stop and your feet kind of immediately go numb.— Cheryl Paynter

But this year, she said it didn't make sense to have the event "with all everybody's doing to try to guard against and fight off this pandemic ... and really, there wasn't a particularly easy way for us to adhere to, you know, [the] very wise guidelines in place right now."

A large crowd of spectators gathered on Jan. 1, 2020, to watch the swimmers run into the icy water. (Laura Meader/CBC)

According to Paynter, the event also serves as a fundraiser for the Upper Room Hospitality Ministry, a Charlottetown soup kitchen and food bank.

"There's no admission fee or registration fee, but we do historically accept both non-perishable food and cash," she said.

'A lot of pent-up demand'

Paynter has also participated in the plunge.

"Every fibre in your body wants to stop and your feet kind of immediately go numb," she said. "You're an official dipper if you go under and come back up. 

"I usually grab somebody's hand and run in and dip and get out as fast as you can."

And as 2020 comes to a close, Paynter said she hopes the quirky tradition resumes.

"Some people have done this for a couple decades running now and its really formed part of their holiday traditions," she said. 

"I think there will be a lot of pent-up demand to return to whatever normal is going to be this time next year."

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