Several BC polar bear swimmers canceled or moved online due to COVID-19

A venerable New Year’s tradition is put on hold in several BC communities for the second year in a row, as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise.

Vancouver’s Polar Bear Swim, which sees swimmers defying the icy waters of English Bay, does not take place on Saturday.

Instead, the organizers have asked the participants to take a “digital dip” at. 14.00 PT by immersing yourself in a bathtub or pool filled with cold water (at least 7 C) and sharing a photo or video online using the hashtag #VanPolarBearSwim.

Those who register on the City of Vancouver website will receive a certificate of remembrance.

Vancouver’s Polar Bear Swim founder, Peter Pantages, is pictured standing in the snow in 1927. (Vancouver Park Board)

More than 7,000 swimmers signed up for the virtual dip last January after the century-old event moved online due to pandemic restrictions.

Still, several swimmers kept up with the tradition and jumped into the cold sea water at English Bay on New Year’s Day.

The last official personal polar bear swim in English Bay took place on January 1, 2020, marking the 100th anniversary of the event. The tradition was started in 1920 by Peter Pantages, who had recently immigrated from Greece.

‘My first polar bear dip was when I was 3 months old’

Lisa Pantages shares the story of her family’s connection to the polar bear swim on New Year’s Day in Vancouver. 1:53

Elsewhere, organizers of The Polar Bear Plunge near White Rock Pier said the swim will not take place in person this year.

The Port Moody Penguin Plunge has also been canceled, as has the polar bear swim to Sidney on Vancouver Island.

A polar bear swim in Colwood, southwest of Victoria, still starts at noon at Esquimalt Lagoon on Saturday.

“The City of Colwood said there are no plans to cancel at this time, so we are sticking to that,” event organizer Christopher Kelsall said Tuesday.

“But the COVID numbers are skyrocketing, so if they say, ‘Hey, we want to kibosh it,’ then kibosh it. But until then, it’s on.”

The current provincial restrictions state that outdoor organized sitting assemblies can have a capacity of 5,000 people or 50 percent capacity, whichever is greater.

Kelsall said participants in Colwood will be encouraged to keep physical distance and wear masks.

“Take a few masks down if you get a wet one,” he said.

Kelsall said the event, which will raise funds for the Victoria Women’s Transition House, has drawn 2,000 to 3,000 people to the lagoon in the past, but the number could be smaller this year if the event continues.

A large part of the province has experienced Arctic outflow and extreme cold warnings in recent days. The cold air and snow may remain until the weekend, according to Environment Canada.

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