Toronto Polar Bear Club cancels annual dip due to extreme cold

The Toronto Polar Bear Club has decided to cancel its annual dip into Lake Ontario at Sunnyside Beach on New Year's Day due to extreme cold weather.

Toronto event was expected to draw hundreds, while Oakville event proceeding as planned

A man holds up his hands after running into Lake Ontario for a brief polar bear dip on New Year's Day, 2017. The Toronto Polar Bear Club has decided to cancel its annual dip into Lake Ontario at Sunnyside Beach on Jan. 1, 2018 due to extreme cold weather. (John Lesavage/CBC News)

The Toronto Polar Bear Club has decided to cancel its annual dip into Lake Ontario at Sunnyside Beach on New Year's Day due to extreme cold weather. 

The event was being held in support of the Boost Child & Youth Advocacy Centre, an organization that works to eliminate violence and abuse in the lives of children, youth and their families.

It would have been the 13th annual dip, with hundreds of people expected to attend. 

Keith Jolie, a founding member of the Toronto Polar Bear Club, said on Sunday the decision is "disappointing" and "heartbreaking" but was made over safety concerns.

Jolie said there is also ice building up on the beach, located in the west end at Sunnyside Park on Lake Shore Boulevard West.

These hardy, and charitable, folks run for their towels after plunging into Lake Ontario. (Neil Herland/CBC)

"We've not cancelled in the past. We've had some pretty cold weather," he said. "But due to ice conditions and out of consideration for the safety of participants, we've decided there's no way to safely move forward with the event this year."

The club, which began in 2005, is hoping that money pledged by sponsors to participants can still be collected to support the Boost Child & Youth Advocacy Centre, he said. 

About $35,000 of the goal of $60,000 had been raised, Jolie said.

"We started it as an event that would be a fun way to start the new year and to raise money for charities. The organizers and I, we would all like to see that those funds raised continue to go to the charity." 

The club is currently exploring its options, including whether to reschedule the event when the weather is warmer. Last year, the Toronto polar bear dip drew 610 participants. 
Participants run into Lake Ontario's icy waters during a New Year's Day polar bear dip in Oakville, Ont. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

The dip was scheduled for noon ET.

The event has been run on very cold New Year's Days in the past, even when the temperature had dipped to –15 C, he said.

"But this year, it's been so cold for so long and the ice buildup on the beach has become what we would consider dangerous," he said.

The club is encouraging anyone who does a "mini polar bear dip" on New Year's Day to post video to Facebook or Twitter. It suggests jumping in a snowbank or making snow angels while wearing a bathing suit.

"If we can't be together tomorrow, let's be together in spirit!" the club said in a Facebook posting

Oakville event 'full steam ahead'

Meanwhile, Oakville's 33rd annual Courage Polar Bear Dip for World Vision into Lake Ontario at Coronation Park is proceeding as planned, but shoes are mandatory this year, the organization said in a tweet. No bare feet or flip flops will be allowed.

"For now, it is full steam ahead," Peter Turkington, manager of media relations for Courage Polar Bear Dip for World Vision, told CBC Toronto on Sunday.

"We're all set and very excited about it."

Turkington said the organization anticipates fewer people will attend given the frigid weather, but about 700 participants and thousands of spectators are expected.

Dippers are being encouraged to stay warm right up until jumping in and to dress for the weather.

If Halton Region Paramedic Services recommends that the event be cancelled, Turkington said it will not proceed and an announcement would be made at the park.

Halton Region paramedics and police and Oakville's firefighters will be on hand. Crews will clear out any ice before the event begins. First responders in dry suits will be in the water, as well.

"We don't expect there to be any problems," Turkington said.

The organization has two unheated change room trailers set up to shelter men and women as they dry off and get changed out of swim suits.

Participants go into the water in waves, with about 100 to 200 jumping in briefly at the same time.

The event is scheduled from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Organizers are hoping to raise $120,000 for World Vision water projects around the world.