Greater Victoria residents joined thousands of people across the country Tuesday and welcomed the new year with a splash into frigid Canadian waters.
Hundreds of brave swimmers showed up at either of the two polar bear dip events in the Capital Region. The first was at noon in Sidney, the second at Elk Lake in Saanich at 2 p.m.
Similar events held all over the country, including the popular Vancouver event and others in Toronto and Winnipeg.
“It’s a new year and this time we thought we’d try it,” said Daniel Partridge, who was trying to get dry on the beach at Tulista Park in Sidney.
Partridge and Home Energy Solutions co-worker Brian Kyle responded to a dare at the office. They poked fun at a fellow employee who never showed up for the cold plunge.
“The vice-president was supposed to come, but he ‘;lost track of time’ — or at least, that was his excuse,” Kyle said.
The polar bear dips are also popular spectator sports. Megan Lappi and Richard Bader came to the beach in Sidney from North Saanich so they and their nine-month-old son, Sam, could see the brave swimmers.
“It is bizarre, but it’s a tradition,” Bader said. “I’ve watched it many times on television, so it’s nice to see it in person.”
Across the Strait of Georgia, thousands of swimmers gathered on the beach at English Bay in Vancouver. Organizers there pegged the outside temperature at an estimated 6 Celsius, similar to Greater Victoria’s weather.
Sean Healy, director of aquatic services for the City of Vancouver, said as many as 2,000 people participate in the event every year, with 18,000 spectators watching.
Jason Aviss, 44, of Langley, wore a spandex-like tuxedo, which allowed him to go formal.
Stacy Leech, 41, of Lillooet, said he couldn’t wait for the official start and went in early.
Back at Tulista Park, George Burnside, 41, of Sidney, had a similar approach.
“This is Sidney,” was all the justification he offered for running in.
About 800 participants took park in the Courage Polar Bear Dip in Oakville, Ont. On Tuesday, Environment Canada reported temperatures there at dropping to -6 C, with a wind chill of -11.
According to organizers, the event, held just west of Toronto at Coronation Park, first began in 1995 and has since raised in excess of $1 million for the charity World Vision Canada.
Participants dress in wacky costumes and leap into Lake Ontario. This year, more than $120,000 will be donated to fund water projects in the African country of Rwanda.
Cathy Sewell screamed with hundreds of others as she charged into frigid Lake Ontario. The 48-year-old Milton, Ont., woman says she had been wanting to do the dip for years and is happy to be able to cross it off her bucket list.
“I can’t believe I did it. It’s very cold but I did it,” said Sewell, shivering underneath a towel.
— With a file from Canadian Press
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