The Canadian Press
January 2, 2013 — Hundreds took the plunge into 2013 by splashing into icy waters at this year's largest Polar Bear Dip done for charity. The charity event was held at several locations across the country Tuesday.
Many hardy Canadians welcomed the new year Tuesday with a splash into icy waters at Polar Bear Dip events across the country.
About 800 participants at this year's Courage Polar Bear Dip, which is the largest such event done for charity, stripped down to their skivvies or donned outlandish costumes before jumping into the sub-zero waters of Lake Ontario in Oakville, Ontario.
According to organizers, the event, held just west of Toronto at Coronation Park, first began in 1995 and has since raised a total of $1,060,000 for the charity World Vision Canada. This year, more than $120,000 will be donated to fund water projects Rwanda.
While waiting for the dip to begin, event co-founder Trent Courage says the tradition of doing a New Year Day's dip started with his mother Gaye who "forced" him and his brother into the lake 28 years ago because she heard of a similar Scandinavian practice.
Since then, the family has continued on the tradition, with him bringing his own young sons each year to join in on the fun with hundreds of others.
"It was basically just something to do on New Year's Day to basically start the year afresh, cleanse the soul, sort to speak," said Courage, donning a bathrobe on the beach trying to stay warm.
The Oakville resident says the event not only brings together families and adrenaline junkies — it also draws those who come dressed in costume.
Over the years, organizers have seen dippers dressed in wedding gowns, tuxedos and geisha outfits.
This year was no exception, a man dressed as Baby New Year equipped with a diaper, sash and top hat and a trio of Smurf characters could be spotted mingling with the crowds.
Courage says participants are drawn by the camaraderie of the event, but also that it's all for a good cause.
"You run in. It's exhilarating. You hyperventilate, your feet start to hurt to be honest with you but when you get changed, you start to feel amazing," he said.
In Vancouver, more than 2,200 people also greeted the new year by plunging into the water in English Bay, as part of their annual Polar Bear Swim, which has been a tradition since 1920.
The water temperature was 7°C and the air temperature was 6°C, slightly colder than last year.
Luis Sintillan, a 43-year-old Ecuadorian, says he took the plunge for the first time because he's visiting Canada and was told he had to participate for the experience.
Jason Aviss of Langley, B.C., says he participated because the swim was a "cleansing thing," and he dressed in a tuxedo Morphsuit, a spandex-like full-body-suit, just to be formal.
City of Vancouver spokesman Sean Healy says 2,233 registered for the event and about 18,000 spectators watched.